MORGANTOWN — It is proving to be a never ending struggle, making us one nation, under God, indivisible.
How we could not have learned when John Wilkes Booth’s bullet struck down Abraham Lincoln that things had to change. It’s impossible to understand.
Our nation’s strength was our diversity, but it also was our weakness and it looked as though sports would be there at the forefront of bringing us together.
When Jackie Robinson opened the door to baseball’s locker rooms for African-Americans it seemed that more of the same would follow and that time would heal all wounds.
Sports seemed destined to be the melting pot.
Teams integrated, slowly at first, but soon they were showing the way toward brotherhood.
But within a decade of Jackie Robinson’s step forward, society was boiling over in change. Lunch counters in the South were integrated. School segregation ended. Neighborhoods became a mixture of races and nationalities.
A price was paid, to be sure. There were bombings and beatings, a turbulent 1960s of rebellion and assassination, but always progress toward creating that more perfect union moved forward with sports at the forefront. Be it Tommy Smith and John Carlos with a raised fist wrapped in a black glove on the Olympics medal stand or Frank Robinson as the first Black manager or women earning their place in the sporting world.
But each time we stepped forward, we seemed to slip back.
Today, of course, we remain in turmoil, protests in the streets complicated by a killer virus.
And certainly here in Morgantown, the last thing we needed an inhouse confrontation that threatened the strength of the foundation Neal Brown was building as WVU football coach, for Morgantown and the state.
On Wednesday, following an investigation of allegations of inappropriate words and actions leveled through social media by sophomore safety Kerry Martin against defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, WVU announced that the football program and the coach had mutually agreed to part.
Koenning offered an apology if anything he did was offensive but there was no admission of wrongdoing. He accepted a cash settlement of 55% of what was due him over the next two years and said he hopes, at 60, to continue coaching.
Certainly he is a proven technician as a defensive coordinator, but he is going to have to pass close scrutiny from potential future employers following the way things ended at West Virginia for him and the mood that prevails in today’s society.
This now presents Coach Neal Brown with his toughest challenge maybe ever for the damage this goes far beyond football and spreads into the very make up of a team and its persona.
Brown had done wonders in laying a solid foundation for team building in his initial year as Dana Holgorsen’s replacement until this crack developed.
Many questioned the way it was handled, arguing that Martin should not have gone public but instead stayed in house with his complaints. He did claim he made Coach Brown aware of the situation, but Brown in a letter to the fans said the first he knew of the problem came via Martin’s Tweet.
Certainly, charges of Koenning’s insensitivity and his alleged attempt to influence the religious beliefs of a couple of players left an open wound that may never heal, making the split the most prudent approach.
But how will this affect the football team?
Many teammates backed Martin when he came forth, but certainly not all.
The defense played well and played hard under Koenning and it will be an adjustment when a new coordinator is named. Brown is already deeply into seeking that replacement for it is said the decision to part company with Koenning came early and that most of the time after that was spent working out the details.
Brown is expected to promote someone from his staff into the role, most likely defensive line coach Jordan Lesley, who has spent the last four years working under Brown.
Lesley’s defensive line looks to be the strongest unit on the team and he probably would stick with the same defense that Koenning ran.
Lesley learned his trade from the bottom up, starting at Kilgore College in Texas, then navigating his way through the junior college ranks until joining Brown at Troy.
The main thing Brown has to do is allow his players to express themselves and to work out their own personality — especially on the defensive side — from within, for Koenning was a strong presence in that room and the new coordinator has to establish that the past is just that — past.
What matters now is how they move forward and grow from this.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel