Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pitino Should Resign-He Won't

Rick Pitino is the basketball coach at the University of Louisville. He should resign from his position. He won't. President Ramsey of the University of Louisville should fire him. The President won't. This is the dark side of how central sport becomes to our personal and institutional identies.

Rick Pitino makes more than the governor of Kentucky and the President of the University of Lousville combined. More people know his name than they know the governor or the senators and certainly not the president of Louisville. He is the public face of the University of Louisville and brought more visibility to the University than any other person or activity at the school As the head coach, he should represent the values of the university with its integrity dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and education students of knowledge and character.

As a coach Rick Pitino sits down in the living rooms of young college athletes and talks with their parents and guardians. He pledges they will get a chance to excel at their sport, and at Louisville, win a national championship. But he also promises them that he, as coach, will help them grow as human beings of integrity with an education and sense of commitment. Good coaches are role models. They serve as surrogate parents for many of their players who come from socially disorganized backgrounds. The uneasy case for college athletics depends heavily upon the claim that the coach and sport help develop character and vital attributes like teamwork, self-discipline and patterns recognition and judgement under stress.

Rick Pitino's actions destroy that fragile case. The story is a little mixed but as near as I can make out Pitino has admitted to having consensual sex with a woman on the table of a bar around six years ago. Later the woman married his friend and equipment managers. The story gets a little murky but it seems Pitino later paid her money to get medical insurance or an abortion or medical insurance to get an abortion. Prior to that it seems she and her husband, who are now getting divorced, demanded money from Pitino to keep silent about the tryst on the bar table. The story Pitino narratives to his President, the press and family changes a little each time.

It's all pretty sordid. But Pitino fails as a role model and representative of values of integrity character and commitment. I don't want to think of the cost of his family, but it gets absurd thinking of him promising to help young men develop as men of integrity when he meets with their parents. He should quit in shame. The university should fire him in embarrassment. Neither will happen. Pitino is standing firm that he is repentant and this "indiscretion" is all behind him. President Ramsey has called him "our guy" and wants to lay the whole sordid business behind him.

Pitino wins games. He brings visibility and fame to a midlevel university. The boosters would sooner dump the President or governor than the Coach. The President would be fired for similar actions. Pitino would kick kids off his team for similar actions.

This gives us a clear sad example of what happens to coaches when we value athletics too much. Winning trumps principle, winning trumps character and it certainly trumps education.

Photo courtesy athlonsports

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