Exploitation of women must stop
NCAA rule needs to be reworked
Rick Pitino should keep his job as Louisville coach.
That way, every time he makes a media appearance this season or coaches a nationally televised game, we are reminded of what happened within his program. And we can continue to have necessary conversations about how big-time college athletics often exploits women, and how that exploitation also affects young men.
I worry that if Pitino is fired, two things will happen. Pitino will be turned into a victim. His supporters will claim that he didn't know an assistant coach was allegedly buying sex for recruits, and attention will turn to how Pitino was wronged. Also, too many people will see Pitino's firing as a solution to a problem, when it's actually just a loud statement with a hollow message.
Real change will only come when people are willing to have honest and open communication about how women are too often treated within college (and professional) sports, how they are often used as currency, or only as ornaments. And when college programs bring onto campus 16- and 17-year-old young men -- kids whose views of women and relationships are not yet solidified -- and buy sex for them, that delivers a very specific message about gender dynamics. It's no surprise that some professional athletes struggle to have healthy relationships with women, and perhaps also offers insight into why pro athletes have a divorce rate much higher than the national average. (The New York Times and Sports Illustrated say that the divorce rate for professional athletes is somewhere between 60 and 80 percent; it is estimated at 40-50 percent for all Americans.)
Last year, when controversy raged around the NFL's handling of players who were arrested for domestic violence, many people wanted commissioner Roger Goodell fired. I didn't think that would fix the problem in pro football, and I feel the same way now. Keeping Goodell as commissioner at least meant having someone in a position of power who is educated on these issues -- even if that education stemmed from crisis. And for months afterward, every time Goodell appeared in public, it jump-started a national conversation about interpersonal violence.
I think it's safe to say that over the past year, pro football fans have been exposed to more dialogue and information about domestic violence because of that scandal.
Well, we need to have the same level of conversation about big-time college programs teaching young recruits that women can be bought and sold, a message that is as bad for these young men as it is for women.
Firing Pitino might feel good, for some people, in the short term. And as more information comes to light, it might become necessary. But right now it feels a little like using all your water on one campfire, when a wildfire is burning all around.
Let's maybe get our eyes up and start really talking about how to handle this issue.
Clearly, what happened at Louisville was not only wrong, it was unimaginable. I have never heard of such a thing, nor could I have imagined it would happen. It was criminal. But it also was an incident that was outside the duties of a basketball coach.
I don't believe for one second that Rick Pitino knew what was going on. I do believe it was purposefully and actively concealed from him. And I don't believe that an unreasonable NCAA rule should impute knowledge and responsibility to him for the unimaginable actions of another.
Just over two years ago, a new version of the "Head Coach Control" bylaw went into effect. It states, in part, that a "head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all assistant coaches and administrators who report, directly or indirectly, to him." Further, it says a head coach should promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor the activities of "all personnel involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to him."
The goal was to take away a head coach's plausible deniability and make it impossible for any coach to claim he didn't know. Now, he is presumed to know, and it is nearly impossible to rebut that presumption.
Instead of true accountability, it promotes false accountability and shifts blame to only one person, while everyone else gets to walk away and scapegoat the highest-paid person. What it creates is an incentive to keep wrongdoing a secret from the head coach, to keep him in the dark. And that's exactly what I believe Andre McGee -- the former Louisville player, graduate assistant and director of basketball operations who allegedly paid an escort service to provide sex for Cardinals recruits -- did. But how could one expect Pitino to take effective action over something he knew nothing about, something outside the responsibilities of his job, and that he couldn't imagine?
That is unreasonable, and the NCAA has codified unreasonable into this rule. What if a staff member was running a Ponzi scheme out of the basketball office? Is it reasonable to expect that head coach to hire a forensic accountant to make sure such an unreasonable act by a subordinate cannot happen? What if the team doctor was selling drugs to players and then falsifying the players' drug tests? Would we expect that coach to be accountable for it as if he did it himself?
Rick Pitino's job status is up to Louisville. If the administration decides it wants to dismiss Pitino to take this off the table and reduce the media attention and heat on the program, that's Louisville's business. But to have all of this reflexive nonsense laying everything at the feet of one person due to an unreasonable NCAA rule is just a convenient way to shift blame, shield administrators and allow those above the head coach to avoid accountability. The rule does not and will not work. It's a scapegoating device that has little value and will cause enormous damage.