I guess I should count myself lucky that I’m not in a position where I’m regularly in the company of vivacious and admiring twentysomething women, because apparently no matter how smart and competent and otherwise sound of judgment a guy my age is, all that needs to happen is for one of these vivacious and admiring twentysomethings to smile at him and he immediately becomes a complete idiot.
No, I’m not talking about Bill Clinton, although he’s still the pre-eminent example. I’m talking about Bobby Petrino, the no longer head coach of the University of Arkansas football team.
It’s right that Petrino was fired. Not because he cheated on his wife and not even because he was an idiot. He violated his contract six ways from Sunday.
The only reason he wasn’t summarily shown the door is that there are procedures that have to be followed in cases like this and, oh yeah, winning coaches who can turn a school’s program around in a hurry are hard to come by.
The athletic director’s decision was complicated by his knowing that in canning Petrino he was probably sending the team back to loserville for next season and fans, alumni, and donors wouldn’t like that and would scream bloody murder.
Lance, are you suggesting that something besides the moral and ethical considerations might have figured in this?
You mean, like money? You bet I am. Because of course it did.
Everybody knows that above a certain level college sports are all about the Benjamins, right?
So, tell me this wasn’t written seriously: (Yahoo Sports’ Dr Saturday posted it over the weekend before Petrino was fired):
If Petrino does stay Arkansas' coach, it's going to be difficult for him to earn the respect he once had. How can he go into a recruit's home and tell parents he can teach their son morals and make him a man. If his own wife can't trust him, how can parents? They can't and Arkansas football will suffer because of it if he stays.
This is what Division I coaches do when they visit a top recruit’s home? Preach about their programs’ moral uplift? And the parents believe them?
This is one of the reasons I prefer following pro sports to college. The hypocrisy factor is smaller.
In the pros everybody knows it’s all about money and winning (and winning equals money so it’s all about money). Oh, sure, people talk about “character” and how it matters, but it’s part of the show and nobody over the age of twelve takes it seriously. Well, almost nobody. The Tebow phenomenon annoyed me because suddenly you had lots of people, commentators and reporters who knew better, talking about football as if “character” and morality did matter or mattered more than talent and skill or were the equivalent of talent or skill. Reporting on the Broncos began to sound like…college football.
The big schools have to pretend that they are just as concerned about character and academics as any Division III school that doesn’t give sports scholarships. They have to pretend that their main lookout is the moral uplift and academic success of their “student”-athletes. What’s frustrating and confusing is that some schools and their coaches really do care and really do worry and really do go out of their way to take care of the students playing for them but because it’s very hard to know which schools and coaches those really are, you either have to swallow the nonsense whole or shrug and assume they’re all equally corrupt. Either way, it takes a lot of the fun out of the games, for me, at any rate.
But with the pros, because it is all about the money and winning, not only can you just enjoy the games for the game’s sake, the view is clearer. “Character” may not matter in the sense of its deciding who wins, but it’s easy to see characters and judge their character or not judge them, as suits your mood. You can tell the good guys from the assholes and enjoy that as something unto itself apart from the game. But mainly what you see is that games are decided not by “character” but by talent, intelligence, and skill, not to mention luck.
In my review of Scott Raab’s The Whore of Akron, I mentioned some of the reasons I had trouble sympathizing with Raab’s anger at LeBron James. Mainly it was because I didn’t grow up rooting heart and soul for a losing sports franchise. But there was something else. Raab wrote about LeBron’s “character” as if it mattered and as if LeBron, and by extension every great professional athlete, has an obligation to be a better person than not just he himself actually is but than any fan manages to be.
Raab seems to believe that if only LeBron had made himself a better man he’d have made himself a better player and then brought Cleveland, the team and the city, a championship at last.
But LeBron’s “character” had little to do with it. It wasn’t James’ fault that the Cavaliers’ owners didn’t know how to build a winning team around him and probably couldn’t have afforded it even if they had been able to figure it out. It wasn’t his fault that they didn’t have the savvy or the money.
I keep putting “character” in quotes because a lot of times people use the word when they mean temperament or personality. And there is one aspect of character---no quotation marks---that does affect games. It’s a matter of virtue, though, not morality. A particular virtue. Diligence.
As a virtue diligence isn’t simply the willingness to work hard. It’s the ability to discipline oneself. Success in a sport often depends on the player’s ability to keep his or her personality in check, at least on the court or the field or the rink.
It’s a useful virtue in your personal life as well.
As Bobby Petrino has just learned or re-learned.
For all I know, Arkansas is one of those schools and Petrino is one of those coaches who do care about more than money and winning. That wouldn’t have changed just because Petrino had responded to a smile by becoming an idiot. But he had to be fired. Not because of the vapid nonsense that a guy who can’t be trusted to stay faithful to his wife can’t be trusted on other important matters. But because, like I said, he violated his contract.
Despite what the moralizers say, the basis for civilization isn’t religion or morality or family or church or other such pious nonsense.
What holds civilization together is people abiding by their contracts.
As far as it matters to the University of Arkansas, Petrino didn’t cheat on his wife as much as he cheated Arkansas.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go mind my own business, which sadly but probably fortunately will have me going about unsmiled at by vivacious and admiring twentysomethings.