This is not the time for Rick Pitino to take the moral high ground
Rick Pitino made a foolish decision to hold a press conference Wednesday
The bottom line is he had an extramarital affair and has to deal with consequences
Pitino might gain more sympathy if he stopped lecturing and stayed quiet
A fifth common bad habit is allowing your personal life to come into the workplace. This happens all the time, and it's potentially very destructive invariably, word gets out that you're having personal problems, they get exaggerated and spread like wildfire.
-- Rick Pitino, in his book Success is a Choice
So there was Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, in Louisville's beautiful new practice facility, with Louisville's logo plastered behind him, and if irony actually dripped, he would have been soaking wet. Pitino was holding a news conference to ask people to go away.
He lectured the media for reporting stories about his extramarital affair when Ted Kennedy had just died. He said we need to get on with the important things in life. He said the FBI doesn't care about basketball, the U.S. attorney doesn't care about basketball, so let's get some perspective here, and by the way, did you hear that Ted Kennedy died? And this isn't about basketball, it's really not but since we're on the topic, recruiting is going great, he has some top-10 players coming in, it's a shame Ted Kennedy didn't live to see them play,
He said, all this has been a lie, a total fabrication of the truth except what I told you. Everything else is a lie.
I was ready to reach into my TV and grab Pitino's shirt, but unfortunately we won't have that kind of technology for at least six more months.
I wanted to scream: Rick! People might sympathize with you if you just SHUT UP!
It's true. Pitino is not under indictment here; Karen Cunagin Sypher is. She is the one accused of extortion. Pitino has admitted to having sex with her at a restaurant once six years ago. The rest of her story is that a) he raped her at that restaurant; b) he convinced her to meet him at the condo of his equipment manager, where he raped her again; c) she got pregnant and he forced her to have an abortion; d) she married that same equipment manager; e) she now thinks Pitino paid the equipment manager to marry her, and (I presume); f) this whole $10 million extortion accusation against her is just a big misunderstanding.
I'm not saying which one is telling the truth. I'm saying her story is very, very hard for people to believe.
Pitino may have violated a moral code, not to mention the city health code, and if he did indeed finance an abortion, he may have violated his own religious code. Still, he draws his paychecks from the University of Louisville, not the Catholic Church. Cheating on your wife is not a fireable offense. Neither is financing a legal abortion. If a coach's extramarital sex were an NCAA violation, trust me, a lot of Final Four appearances would be vacated.
It is tempting to pin this mess on Pitino, to say he created it on that night in 2003 when he went to an upscale restaurant in Louisville and ordered way, way off the menu. But all we really know for sure is that he cheated on his wife, and Americans can deal with a guy cheating on his wife. (Lord knows we've had enough practice.)
Pitino sees himself as the victim in this case, and he might be right. But he also thinks that gives him the moral high ground, and that high ground is shakier than he realizes. He apparently had one of his lackeys watch the door while he was enjoying his nightcap. Pitino's equipment manager did marry the coach's fling, and that does have a twisted take-one-for-the-team feel to it.
He says things like, "This is a day I went home to comfort my wife, who as you would imagine in the last seven months, has had a difficult time as her husband was blackmailed during the tournament and extorted for millions of dollars."
I can't speak for Joanne Pitino. But you know, it is possible that her husband's philandering contributed to her difficult time.
Pitino has always wanted the best of everything at all his jobs: the highest salary, the best perks, the most beautiful facilities. He can't turn around and ask everybody to have some perspective. It just won't work.
Pitino's problem right now is that he is a lifelong salesman. He has a desperate need to control the story, to create an image, to convince everybody in the room that he is somebody they should follow.
But this room is too big. He can't control it, no matter how much he asks us to talk about Ted Kennedy's death.
(By the way, Pitino has now held two news conferences this month to discuss the extortion case. In the first one, he compared dealing with this to coping with 9/11. In this one, he invoked Ted Kennedy's death twice. I can't wait until the case goes to trial and Pitino compares it to the Normandy invasion.)
Does he really think the media is only going to report his side of the case? Everything in this case is going to be made public. Everything.
"I'm a very proud New Yorker and all my close family and friends had to read in the tabloids all these vicious things that were said," Pitino said.
I assume this was in response to the New York Post's interview with Sypher, but so what? What does Pitino expect to accomplish? Does he really think he can talk the New York Post into exercising restraint?
There was a time, years ago, when Pitino could say anything and make most people believe it. He has that kind of charisma. He somehow parlayed his ability to coach basketball into three books about leadership. He even found time to chastise Americans for showing up to work on time.
"What you should be doing," he wrote in Success is a Choice, "is arriving at work a half hour early and getting all of your social conversations out of the way, getting your newspaper read, and getting your coffee poured, so that when the workday starts you are ready."
I don't know if he still believes that -- after all, he wrote it before Ted Kennedy died -- but it was one of several bad habits that Pitino discussed in his book. If Pitino is just a philanderer and the victim of extortion, nothing more, then I feel for him. Really, I do. But this is not the time for Rick Pitino to lecture us on bad habits or anything else.