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March 7, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 10

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THE CATHOLIC  DIOCESE OF  RICHMOND

– Necrology

COMMENTARY

Teaching moment was lost

Probably no teaching of Christianity is more difficult to live than forgiving another who you feel has willfully harmed you.

It’s only slightly easier when the one who has wronged you comes forward with an apology and asks forgiveness.

This scene was set on Feb. 24 after millions of viewers of ABC’s Good Morning America watched a replay of a basketball practice Jan. 25 in which Holy Family University coach John O’Connor, 51, first backhanded a player, Matt Kravchuk, 19, leaving him with a bloody nose. He then kicked him as he lay on the floor.

The two men, each with his own lawyer present, agreed to meet face to face on Good Morning America to give their respective take on the incident. It was not a friendly encounter.

“Matt, this was an accident,” Coach O’Connor told Matt, although he had to be told by GMA host George Stephanopoulos to look his student directly in the eye when he addressed him. “I was just trying to make this a better team, make us more competitive and in doing so an accident happened and it was unintentional by me. I’m really sorry that it happened.”

Mr. Kravchuk, a college sophomore, refused to accept the apology. He claimed the apology was not sincere because the coach claimed it was justified.

There was no mistaking what happened. The video shows the coach pushing Matt the to the ground and then walking toward him and kicking him. Coach O’Connor can be heard cursing at the player, saying, “Get the [expletive] out of here.”

Neither his actions nor his words were befitting an employee connected to a Catholic institution — or any institution for that matter.

The coach’s behavior is clearly inexcusable. He said on GMA that he was just trying to make the team competitive. What he described as a “nudge” was definitely a kick. He was obviously remorseful about it, however, because there was footage of him afterwards crying over what he had done.

Mr. Kravchuk, while certainly the victim here, would not accept the coach’s repentance. Presumably, he had learned that Christians are obliged to forgive. He likely knew the apology would be offered when he agreed to appear on the early morning national program. He appeared stoic as he rejected the coach’s apology.

The coach was suspended and then resigned the same day as the GMA appearance. Matt is no longer on the team. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced Feb. 24 that it will not prosecute Mr. O’Connor even though a police report had been filed on Feb. 11.

No one was the winner here. Good sportsmanship is competitive, but clearly Coach O’Connor crossed the line. Matt Kravchuk was wrong as well because of his unwillingness to forgive. A teaching moment was lost.

To err is human, to forgive divine. (Alexander Pope, English poet)

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