Seasons change, but some things don’t, like college sports scandals
Sports are not the refuge for us to run from the reality
It’s fall. The days grow shorter. The nights grow colder. Brightly colored leaves shimmy on the trees and then fall to the ground, where they crunch underfoot, a multihued pathway to winter.
Meanwhile, the world of sports stands as a horn of plenty: everything from NHL hockey to the WNBA Finals high-steps into view.
Like the people of our nation, the sports and their fans can appear so different, one from the other, NBA basketball to NASCAR auto racing.
But for many athletes, sports scribes and fans, the games are governed by one sanctified ideal that can be distilled as “You reap what you sow.”
And so, at least in the minds of many sports Pharisees, the championship winners’ circles and the championship rings await those who’ve worked hardest and smartest, the fans who’ve looked at sports with their hearts, year after year, and have finally been rewarded with seeing their favorite teams win it all.
Reaping what you sow in sports is a comforting notion. In so many other aspects of our lives, hard work, decency and intelligence are neither rewarded nor honored the way economic opportunism, inherited wealth and privilege have been. Furthermore, lies mock truth. Greed trumps generosity and the bad guys win, again and again.
But in sports, the intelligent design and the elite performances of the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Cubs and New England Patriots have resulted in championships. They have reaped what they have sown.
In sports, Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback, might have lost his NFL career, but his stand against racial oppression has helped many others find the courage to speak out against injustice, inside and outside of sports. While in exile, Kaepernick loses sports riches that might never be recovered or replaced. But, if he helps the nation confront its racial inequities, the wealth and bounty of his spirit, the power of his example, will grow and grow. The nation will reap what Kaepernick has sown.
Still, many in our society take as much pleasure in scorning the smooth operators in sports as in praising the superstars and heroes. After all, the ultimate demise of the smooth operators reinforces the notion of reaping what you sow too.
Enter Rick Pitino. Last week, the Hall of Fame coach was put on unpaid administrative leave at the University of Louisville, where he coached for 16 years and won his second national championship in 2013. In 1996, he’d won his first national title at the University of Kentucky.
With 770 career victories, Pitino has long been an artful dodger of college hoops. He’s survived two sex scandals at Louisville; one was sparked by his extramarital affair, and the other involved female companions being provided for Louisville recruits. Pitino asserted that he hadn’t known about the latter.
This time, Pitino has been the most prominent person ensnared in an alleged scheme that saw bribes used to entice high school basketball players to choose certain colleges, including Louisville, an alleged scheme that could only be attempted if coaches, sneaker companies, parents and guardians were willing to pimp teenage athletes for money.
The allegations stem from a multiyear FBI probe into fraud and corruption in men’s college basketball recruiting. By late last week, 10 people had been arrested. Four college assistant coaches were among the arrested, including Chuck Person at Auburn, where he was a star player. He’s been accused of accepting bribes from a business manager and a financial adviser to steer Auburn players to specific business arrangements when they entered the NBA.
James Gatto, an Adidas representative, has also been arrested. He’s accused of conspiring with college coaches to funnel bribe money to persuade star players to attend schools that have business arrangements with Adidas. Tom Jurich, Louisville’s athletic director, has joined Pitino on administrative leave. Pitino’s lawyer has said his client has “effectively been fired,” but he has denied that Pitino, a head coach for more than 30 years, has done anything wrong. That could be true: Even if efforts were made to entice Louisville recruits with money, there is no reason to think that Pitino knew any more about that than he did earlier efforts to seduce other Louisville recruits with women. But let’s understand, the sports landscape is strewn with the crumpled careers of functionaries and flunkies. They did the dirty work. And when the time came, they were thrown under buses or stumbled beneath them, leaving the bosses who benefited from their tawdry toil to walk free and unknowing, clean and innocent.
Nevertheless, if criminal allegations are proved against some in court in the current fraud and corruption case, the convicted adults will have sown corruption and reaped ruined careers and tarnished reputations, and rightly so.
Whatever happens in court, the notion that big-time college basketball can maintain its amateur innocence just so long as the players, and only the players, don’t get paid, legally or illegally, has suffered another telling blow.
And if the latest college basketball scandal ultimately results in players and fans becoming still more cynical about big-time collegiate hoops, especially the supposed amateurism, the NCAA will have reaped what it has sown.