This summer I saw a ghost.
Amid the personalities of my pent house office between Fifth and Madison Avenues in New York City was a vague resemblance of a character that once graced the hard-wood floors of Assembly Hall.
At first glance I didn’t recognize the misplaced figure — I just wrote him off as another nameless face I probably wouldn’t remember after my six-week internship expired. But then I was awakened by the realization that this was not just another co-worker.
While having lunch one day in our AstroTurf-carpeted conference room, the friendly red-head welcomed me with a wave and an introduction.
“Hi Mary, I’m Neil,” he said.
Great, I thought, that’s the third Neil I’ve met today.
But I soon learned that this Neil was distinguishable from the other two. After Neil’s animated introduction, the magazine’s college basketball editor entered the conference room laughing.
Approaching Neil she explained that his gesture was witnessed by the editor-in-chief, and that our boss’ only comment to Neil’s goofy wave was, “No wonder Bobby Knight couldn’t stand him.”
And that’s when it hit me — my co-worker was Neil Reed, the former Hoosier stand out that accused Knight of choking him during practice in 1997.
Six months earlier Reed had written an exclusive story for the magazine, giving testimony to what he experienced during his Indiana career. In the story he explained that one afternoon Knight called him and several other players into his office and told them that he strongly recommended that they transfer to another school. While the other players folded under the pressure of the hostile Knight, Reed refused to back down and told Knight that he would return for another season. A few days after the meeting Reed went to class and saw the headlines of the student paper that read Reed was voted off the team by his teammates.
This was the first Reed had heard of the decision. He received no phone call from the coaching staff and not one of his teammates had bothered to inform him of the decision. Enraged and confused, Reed left the classroom looking for answers. He was later told that the team had met and made the decision. But Reed knew whose decision it really was. Knight holds the reigns tight on his team, and he wanted Reed to go away.
And that’s exactly what Reed did. Unable to deal with the harassment from Indiana students, Reed was forced to leave IU all together.
He wanted to get far away from Indiana, and he wanted to leave his Hoosier memories behind.
After leaving Bloomington, Reed spent time at Southern Mississippi, in Europe and at LSU. But his travels eventually brought him to Manhattan for an internship, which is where I met him.
Several years after Knight forced him to leave Indiana, Neil is still trying to find his niche in life. He used to think that being a Hoosier was his life, but not anymore. After he left Indiana, he donated all of his red clothing to charity, and he even gave away his infamous striped tube socks.
Neil no longer wants to be known as the player who left IU amid controversy, and he even avoids getting into conversations about Knight. When the office played the game “Who should play Bob Knight in ESPN’s movie ‘Season on the Brink,'” Reed didn’t join in the laughter that perhaps it should be Hitler. Instead, the fair-skinned redhead sat quietly and laughed to himself.
This ex-player just wants to get on with his life. He wants to find a permanent job, and he wants to finish grad school. Was this the way he thought his life was going to end up? No, but he’s dealing with his new hand of cards all the same. At times he likes to talk about his Big Ten days — he enjoyed telling me his stories of when he played UW, and even labeled those trips as “good times” — but most of the time he tries to concentrate on who he is now as opposed to who he was at IU.
Neil’s internship expired at the end of August, and by now he’s onto the next phase of his adventure. Where it will take him he doesn’t know — it could be a job as a check-out clerk at a mom-and-pop video store, or it could be playing ball in Holland, for those were the two easiest jobs in the world, Reed once told me. Or it could be hanging around Manhattan until next semester, when he plans on finishing grad school at NYU. But one thing is certain — Reed’s journeys will keep him far away from Bloomington, Indiana.