For once, UK and UL fans can unite in their sense of outrage. Political commentator Al Hunt has penned an odd editorial in the New York Times in which he takes on the issue of corruption in college athletics. Nothing Hunt says is particularly new…he is upset about the Penn State and Syracuse scandals (who isn’t?) and correctly says that money drives the college athletics system. He makes the rather obvious point that when money gets in the way of protecting our children and causes the lack of oversight that we have seen in places like Penn State and Syracuse, we have a problem. While those points could be made (and have been made) as articulately by fifth graders writing their opinion papers before recess, they are certainly without controversy. But then he writes these two paragraphs:
Two cherished college basketball programs in Kentucky offer other examples of a lack of accountability. Rick Pitino of the University of Louisville, one of the game’s more successful coaches, stresses family values, travels with a priest and, in a past job, once featured the pope in a basketball guide. In 2009, he admitted that he had sex with a woman in a local bar and later gave her $3,000, either for, in his account, health insurance or, by her account, an abortion. The woman was later convicted of extortion. He was depicted as the victim, and she went to jail. Mr. Pitino is still highly compensated and celebrated by the university.
In Lexington, the University of Kentucky coach, John Calipari, is treated like a god. Before coming to Kentucky, he took two other teams to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Final Four Men’s Championship. Both successes were later vacated because of rules violations. Kentucky is now a basketball factory, bringing in great high school players who stay for a year, win games and turn professional. The president of this academic institution showers praise on the coach.
Whatever one thinks of Pitino’s actions a few years ago or Calipari’s reputation as a coach prior to Kentucky, the idea that either action is in the ballpark of what has happened with Sandusky and Fine is disgusting. The allegations at those two universities involve actions that are as morally repulsive as any behavior imaginable. To compare them to silly public sexual activity and the hiring of an agent by Marcus Camby suggests at best a hurried, incomplete comparison by a lazy intellect behind on a deadline and at worst, a dishonest portrayal for which Hunt should be ashamed. Criticism of a person who has embarrassed his family with poor behavior choices or was the head of a program that was accused of violating administrative rules is understandable. But to lump that criticism into an argument about sexual crimes against children is bizarre and unfair. Whether Jim Tressel knew about free tattoos or the BCS should allow Boise State to compete for the national championship (other topics thrown in by Hunt in his catch-all argument) are all fine topics for discussion. But they aren’t in the same ballpark as the issues at Penn State and Syracuse, a fact that Hunt surely knows.
I must admit that when I read this column, my outrage was a bit muted by the fact that I met Hunt nearly a decade ago at Duke and found him to be extremely likable. He was part of the old CNN show “The Capital Gang” with Robert Novak and I often watched their show in the days before television political debates were simply excuses for loud screaming contests. We kept in email contact for a couple of years and I always found him engaging and full of insight. So I won’t take this column as some sort of proof that he is an awful human being who sits in the corner with Pete Thamel plotting the downfall of the Commonwealth. But it is a quite disappointing read. It is one thing for sports reporters, whose world view is generally limited to whatever game and corresponding media buffet they have been assigned to on a particular weekend. But for someone who allegedly cares and comments on large world events involving the most important issues of the day to make the same mistake in perspective…well that’s just sad.