Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Luke Witte at Lakeside

We went to Orchestra Hall today to hear Luke Witte, from the OSU basketball fame. Then to the Patio for perch sandwiches. Here's a summary from a publication about what we heard; Witte is now a Methodist pastor and gives talks on reconciliation.

"Back in 1972, The University of Minnesota was hosting Ohio State, and on that day, the young Musselman had predictably worked his players into a frenzy prior to the game. Observers noted he was encouraging extra-physical play. At the end of the first half, OSU missed a shot, and Gopher Bobby Nix raised a fist in celebration. Luke Witte shoved Nix’s arm out of his way on his way off the court, and hit Nix’s face in the process. In the final minute of the game, with the Buckeyes wrapping up the win, Witte attempted a layup and was slugged in the face by Clyde Turner. Gopher Corky Taylor offered his hand to Witte, and when Witte took it, Taylor kneed him in the groin and punched him in the head. While back down on the floor, Minnesota player Ron Behagen approached, and kicked and stomped Witte. When Buckeye Dave Merchant came to Witte’s aid, Jim Brewer approached and was pushed out of the way. Buckeye Mark Wagar was approached from behind by Winfield, who punched Wagar in the face five times. The incident, easily obtainable on YouTube, carried racial overtones, since all of the Minnesota attackers were black and all of the Ohio State victims were white. A Sports Illustrated photo sequence recorded the disgusting violence.

Luke Witte was beat up the worst. After the referees forfeited the game to the Buckeyes, Witte was carried off the court while Minnesota fans booed and hurled debris. Witte and two other Buckeyes spent time in the hospital; Witte was in intensive care for a time, his eye injuries impaired him long-term. When one revisits the 1972 brawl, emotions of anger arise1.

For his part, Witte remembers nothing, from half-time of that game to the next morning. He has recalled his mental state in the years immediately following the Minnesota game. He often felt fine- as if nothing had happened. Other times, he would allow the lingering physical effects (such as the limitations in his eyesight) to cause hostility to fester inside of himself. His hatred focused on Behagen, Turner, Taylor, and Musselman.

He allows he’d lost the passion for the game after the fight. This included his three seasons with the Cavaliers. Over time, during a life journey that spanned decades and included seminary study and becoming an ordained pastor, Luke Witte came to a conclusion:

He needed to forgive those who were involved in the attack back in 1972.

It sounds easy enough: give up your anger and your desire for revenge, and move on. It can be extremely difficult, in practice. Truly forgiving is probably the most important skill of happiness. It takes strength to overcome our own vengeful heart. It is within our power to do so, however. The gesture liberates the victim and allows him to shed his bitterness.

In 1982, ten years after the brawl, Corky Miller reached out to Luke Witte by mail. Witte agonized over how, or whether, to respond- until his wife convinced him to call. They initially didn’t say much, but began to occasionally write each other. When the age of email dawned, they wrote more often. Strong emotional and spiritual bonds formed.

Eventually, Corky Miller invited Luke Witte to visit him and his family in Minnesota. Their relationship had become that of brothers, as they discussed basketball, race relations, and the nature of forgiveness.

While Witte was visiting Miller, he was surprised by a visit by Clyde Turner. The three of them later watched a tape of the attack on the court. They were silent, yet with a dozen questions that would later be discussed.

In the meantime, the three men reconciled. They became liberated."

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