The book was already written, the movie already shot. The “unbelievable true story” of the boy who started from the holler and rose to the rafters, then state office. Mix in a love story subplot and tab a way-too-handsome albeit believable leading man for the part and Disney would have its next big thing.
Then it all went to hell of course, and suddenly Disney’s feel good movie of the summer became the Coen Brothers latest black comedy of errors and ultimate tragedy.
In many ways, Richie Farmer was the face of The Unforgettables. That regal mountain ‘stache first sprouted around the age of three, the hustle, the clutch, the fundamentally flawless free throws…the prototype of a Fan Favorite. Of all the salutations in this state none carry the esteem of Mr. Basketball, which Farmer earned with his Sweet 16 heroics that make a ho-hum out of Hoosiers.
While there was nothing statistically legendary about his UK career it was more than respectable, considering his physical limitations and the state of the program at the time. Really, that’s all it needed to be to further cement his status as Kentucky Hoops Legend.
This is the part where Richie saddles up his horse and trots off into a lucrative sunset of car dealerships, a steakhouse, milk commercials, instructional videos or coaching. When you’re a legend, the possibilities really are endless.
Or, public office. Why not, right? Frankfort can be pretty cushy when you have an approval rating of 100% and your jersey hangs in Rupp Arena. The task seemed simple enough: bank your popularity, put that hard earned Ag degree to use in where else but the Department of Agriculture, shake hands, smile for pictures, say a few words about the Unforgettables and how it relates to sustainable farming techniques, defer decision making to the handlers, just whatever you do, KEEP YOUR HANDS OUT OF THE COOKIE JAR.
That’s it, good luck.
Mountains tower proudest,
Thunder peals the loudest,
The landscape is the grandest,
And politics–the damndest
“In Kentucky” by Judge James Hillary Mulligan (1902)
One could trace long trails of corruption at any level of politics. It’s simply a by-product of the power grab to which no state is immune. Certainly not Kentucky, where back-room dealing and front row swindling is almost a point of pride. Even with today’s scoop starving media digging through the muck and vindictive sources leaking out from both sides of the aisle, it really takes major transgressions to stand out. You have to be leaving a pretty large and reckless pile of shit to get taken all the way down. With a little bit of tact, lots of manipulation, a few bags of money, the occasional fall-guy and perhaps the right last name, one can usually find shelter from the political storms, provided of course, you’ve learn your lesson (or, found a better way to hide it).
Richie has many skills, such as the bounce pass, the jump shot and, well, that moustache, but political savvy, not even an ounce. Elementary school valedictorian can only get you so far, kids.
Look, the last thing I want to do is pile on. This isn’t a violent, dangerous, conniving individual here. There’s simply not enough ‘tools in the shed’ to connive much of anything outside a pick n’ roll. He’s just a simple man who got in way over his head and resorted to the Clay County ways of doin’ bidness, which is none of your damned bidness, see yall at church.
Even by Eastern Kentucky’s rugged, wild-west standards, Manchester stands out as an epicenter of corruption. A town where just a few years ago the FBI nabbed several of the county’s top officials in a bid-riggin’, vote-buyin’, drug-dealin’, cold blooded game of musical chairs. I’m sure that’s how their daddies did it, and their daddies before em, on down the line.
It’s a sad reality for the honest, hard working folks of Clay County who are as appalled as the rest of us looking in. Richie likely didn’t set out to game the system and reap the rewards, it just came natural. What separates crooks from straights is the ability to recognize that what comes natural ain’t always right. That, and a conscience of course, which he’ll have plenty of time to reconcile with. But that’s why Richie deserves no sympathy, and why we can comfortably laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Just picture the man up there in his big State office, boots flopped on the desk, fiddlin’ around with his phone, aimlessly looking in all the drawers and cabinets. Belly laughing at the baby who blows snot bubbles on Youtube. Of all the glaring transgressions and swindling, my personal favorite is the charge of driving around in the state issued vehicle with his tax-payer bought rifle and shooting a deer with said tax-payer bought rifle out of the window of said state issued car then sending in a staffer to field dress said deer, because what in the daggumed hell is a deer season any-ol-how?
So goes the story of Richie Farmer. Folk Hero. Unforgettable. Commissioner. Felon. Hopefully this latest chapter, is not The End.
Required Reading: The Legend of Richie Farmer