A Woman in Rick Pitino’s Place?

(Also view Professor Joe Kohm's blog entry, "What if Rick Pitino Had Been a Woman?" at Sports Law Blog.)

The national sports news has been dominated by the Pitino scandal. Head basketball coach at the University of Louisville, married for 23 years with 5 children, Pitino has admitted to extramarital sex that has placed him in the center of an extortion trial. See Pitino apologizes for “indiscretion” in the VIRGINIAN-PILOT, Aug. 13, 2009, at page 3, [view online] for a complete history of the events surrounding the scandal. Pitino’s is a family that needs restoration.

Testimony of Pitino’s assistant coach reveals that at Pitino’s request, the assistant showed up at the restaurant where Pitino asked to be picked up. Upon arrival the assistant unwittingly and embarrassingly found Pitino and paramour in the midst of table top sexual intercourse. As the PILOT reports, “Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, a married father of five, said in a statement to police he had sex with Karen Sypher, then gave her $3,000 after she said she was going to have an abortion and didn’t have medical insurance.” The University has noted their continued support of Coach Pitino despite the scandal.

Now the question running through our minds is this: What if Coach Pitino were a woman? And if she were a Division I basketball coach at a prominent university? And she were found by her assistant coach in the midst of table top sexual intercourse with a paramour, with her husband and children waiting at home for her safe arrival? Would her university stand behind her as well?

Our cultural standards remain gender challenged, but that means that good people must face the truth about the lack of gender equality in many parts of America. I (Professor Lynne Marie Kohm) have researched and published on this area of gender inequity – a great concern to me - in a recent Duke law journal. You can read the entire article at: A Christian Perspective on Gender Equality, 15 DUKE J. GENDER L. & POL’Y 339 (2008).

And our cultural standards seem to be sports-challenged as well. We (Adjunct Professor Joseph Kohm and Professor Lynne Marie Kohm) have also researched the problems with college athletics. You can read the entire article at: “The Family Advisor”: The New Trend for Athletes with Family Values, 14 U. MIAMI ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTS L. REV. 113 (1997)(with Joseph A. Kohm, Jr.); cited in Mark Doman, Attorneys as Athlete-Agents: Reconciling the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct with the Practice of Athlete Representation, 5 TEX. REV. ENT. & SPORTS L. 37 (2003). These are also of great concern to us.

And as lawyers, contract clauses are very important to us. Do words mean things anymore? An examination of Pitino’s employment contract with the University contains a section entitled “Termination for Just Cause,” with some interesting revelations. Under §6.1 of the contract the University has a right to terminate Pitino if his willful misconduct “could objectively be anticipated to bring Employee into public disrepute or scandal,” or his actions tend “to greatly offend the public,” or if his actions sink to the level of “moral depravity.”

Does having sex with a woman (not your wife) whom you just met that night in a restaurant while another University employee listens in constitute an act of “moral depravity?” Does it bring the University of Louisville into public disrepute? Does it bring Rick Pitino into public disrepute? Does Rick Pitino paying for the woman’s subsequent abortion bring him into public disrepute or scandal? Does his paying for the woman’s abortion (or medical insurance?) bring the university into public disrepute or scandal? The “objective” answer to all these questions seems to be in the affirmative.

Sadly today, “Morals Clauses” in contracts have really turned into flexible “Behavior Clauses.” This is intentional because the term ‘morals’ is more rigid, even ‘outdated.’ Behavior or conduct is somehow easier to manipulate. Furthermore, would the immediate reaction of the University of Louisville’s Athletic Director indicating that they were behind Coach Pitino “one million percent” be the same if he had a winning percentage that was below .500? Or if he were a woman? Would the contract clauses be so easily ignored?

The reaction of Pitino’s incoming recruiting class is likewise noteworthy. As of this morning not one recruit has asked to be released from his commitment to Louisville. In fact (as the PILOT noted) one recruit twittered, “Yo, I ain’t leaving…Rick(‘s) personal life is his life. He’s here to coach me and is the best teach of hoop to me! So like the fans say, ‘Go cards.’”

Many people can compartmentalize personal behavior from professional behavior – but that is not integrity. Everyone falls short, and everyone can receive forgiveness (I John 1:9), and conduct has consequences that make a difference. Pitino is just one coach, who, like the rest of us, needs forgiveness and a new start. The Pitino family needs to be restored, but that can only happen with Jesus Christ. We can’t help but wonder if the same courtesies would be afforded by the public to a woman in the same situation? Or a non-winning coach?

The courtesies of forgiveness and a fresh start can be afforded – but authentically only by Jesus Christ. And He allows us to face the consequences of our actions with Him by our side. And He is the author of family restoration.

Just food for thought.

Professor Joseph Kohm teaches Sports Law at Regent Law, and is a Major League Baseball Player Agent.
Professor Lynne Marie Kohm teaches family law and gender law at Regent Law.

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