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Bouknight case shows why honesty is such a lonely word

And so all the frets and worries are duller aches today, the byproduct of a biggie on the road Saturday for the UConn Huskies, who won a game they needed more than a lung, exploiting COVID's recent wrath on Xavier's program.

UConn coach Dan Hurley referred to his players as "soldiers and warriors," said his programs have been built on "rugged, tough-ass dudes" and that one of the challenges in recent days was to be "able to turn off the noise."

Ah, yes. The pachyderm in the room. The "noise." This presumably includes dealing with another game minus James Bouknight, the young man whose elbow injury hearkens Churchill's line about the Russians in 1939: a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma.

Let the record show that while previous postgame Zoom sessions with Hurley have been awash in Bouknight references, Saturday's provided but two. In passing.


Still, the "noise" invites the question as to why Bouknight's injury has morphed into this cause celebre.

I mean, we're talking about a young man's elbow here. It's an elbow. Why has an elbow become the subject of more secrecy than international espionage? And we learn all over again this life lesson: In the absence of fact, presumption and speculation fill in the blanks.

Presumption and speculation are troublesome enough. But they hit dizzying levels when thrown into the same stew with a ravenous fan base wanting answers, the musings of competitive media members on and off social media and other forces trying to control information rather than share it.

Why must it be this way?

The two-minute drill version: Bouknight injured his elbow at Marquette in early January. His family consulted an outside specialist who suggested surgery about a week later. Since that time, it's become a muddled morass of "he said, they said" as to the date of Bouknight's progress and potential return.

You know who has handled this correctly? Nobody. And it's time the charade ended.

It's a legitimate question as to what the public (media, fans, etc.) honestly has a right to know about the health situation of another human being. That's why there's something called HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, one of whose components is a stringent privacy requirement.

The word "privacy," however, often runs afoul of 24-hour news cycles and society's growing inability to handle not knowing. In this case, Bouknight is a prominent figure within the state's biggest athletic entity, perhaps leading some to believe they have a right to know what they actually don't have a right to know.

Translation: If Bouknight and his family want to keep details of the young man's health situation private, they own the right to do so. It would just be swell if they'd come out and say it. Example: "Hey, guys, we appreciate the interest. But we'd prefer to keep information about James private. We hope you can respect and appreciate that."

Instead, the messages have been muddled. The university has denied the requests of state media members to interview Bouknight. Hurley has been all over the place with his updates, admitting after the Providence game last week that he had "painted himself into a corner" in the past. Other questions to media relations aren't able to be answered, citing HIPAA regulations.

Funny, though, how few games pass without pregame updates on Bouknight's condition from national media members (most notably Jeff Goodman and Jon Rothstein) who site "sources" updating Bouknight's status. Translation: Someone in the family — or more likely at UConn — doesn't believe HIPAA to be as sacrosanct as the beatitudes after all.

No wonder why Billy Joel said honesty is such a lonely word.

Can someone involved in this melodrama try the concept of honesty ... once? Then maybe presumption, speculation and conspiracy theories end.

HIPAA laws exist for a reason. They are to be followed and respected. Except that Bouknight's case really ought to be viewed in proportion. We're talking about a young man's elbow. He doesn't have gonorrhea. There's nothing embarrassing about being out with an elbow problem on which surgery was just performed. It's surgery. Real life stuff.

So just come and say it. Or don't. Just say something, instead of this practice of secrecy and disingenuousness.

Nice win Saturday. Reason for excitement and optimism in the next few weeks. But here's hoping the next Bouknight-like issue in this program gets handled better. Honesty may be a lonely word. But it's the best practice.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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