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Rick Pitino: The Easy Target

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

For nearly two weeks my mindset as a fan of the University of Louisville basketball program has been to take a back seat to the current mess, let the events play out as they may, and ultimately make my decision once the evidence has fully presented itself. Maybe my hold out will last another two weeks, maybe another two years, but I’m prepared to refrain from making any brash judgments or inflammatory statements either way until that time eventually comes. Why, you may ask, would I hold my tongue as new information comes to light, why would I not condemn Katina Powell or in turn Rick Pitino as the viewpoints shift from one side to the other…? Because you run the risk of looking like an idiot, and feeling like an even bigger one as the story unfolds.

So, with that said, what has made me temporarily emerge from my scandal cocoon? What has forced me to throw the blankets off, leaving my proverbial football hibernation and leap onto my computer to discuss this chaos? The recent piece from respected journalist Sally Jenkins, which was nothing more than a personal attack against Rick Pitino and his family and served no further purpose than to meet an article quota for a now highly publicized story.

To sum it up, Jenkins wrote a piece draped in satire mocking the statements of Rick Pitino and his denials of the accused sexual misconduct that took place on campus. An easy stance to take at this point and frankly a lazy one, considering there has not been one shred of evidence directly linking Pitino to this situation at all, but, so are the times we live in. Quick to blame…and even quicker to move on to the next topic if wrong.

Let me be clear, the piece from Jenkins was obviously an opinion piece. The same can be said of this one in terms of it being my opinion and my thoughts alone. I have no problem with opinion pieces; my problem is that we tend to jump to such drastic conclusions with little to no supportive evidence that we place labels on teams, coaches, and players which are oftentimes near impossible to remove no matter what the truth may ultimately reveal. One would think Jenkins, who penned an article about Joe Paterno in 2011 after additional facts were revealed in the examination of the molestation charges, would understand that time is the most important variable of any investigation and that as each day passes we learn more and more as the puzzle pieces start to shift into place. Paterno was a monster and the face of the Penn State scandal early on, but Jenkins, after further review, saw things differently…

"Try to forgive Joe Paterno: When he looked at Jerry Sandusky, he didn’t see a dirty old man in a raincoat. He saw a friend, a close colleague, and a churchy do-gooder. He saw a nice guy. You’d have seen the same thing. Think not? You think you can see a clear-cut difference between an alleged child molester and a youth coach? How exactly? By the hunchback and the M-shaped scar on his forehead that says, "I’m a molester"?

Agreed Sally. How was Paterno to know? Surely you couldn’t expect the coach to know the ins and outs of each one of his staff member’s daily lives? Surely you couldn’t expect a coach to know about a small but ongoing and repeated criminal act taking place on his campus, under his programs roof? Right,Sally? So why the rush to judgment on Pitino? Maybe I’m stretching on the parallels, after all, according to Jenkins Pitino had previous transgressions. NCAA violations at Louisville? No, not those. You know, that time he cheated on his wife. Obviously his personal infidelity six years ago only reinforces the fact that he would be more than willing to provide approval and/or be made well aware of an illegal escort service used to recruit high school athletes..am I right? I mean, Sally jumps feet first into that assumption, so why doesn’t everyone else immediately make the connection? Because Sally whipped out her "sex story" paintbrush, and painted with some damn broad strokes.

But that’s not all. Jenkins also, while choosing to ignore the numerous players and coaches who have come out in support of Pitino and expressed their adamant belief that Pitino had no knowledge of the situation, chose to single out Pitino’s nephew and son Richard as the two lone men standing in his corner. Why ignore Coach Cronin, Coach Calipari, Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, Luke Hancock, Mike Marra, Peyton Siva, etc, etc, etc? Frankly, because it’s far easier to shoot down the opinions of someone who has a personal connection to the accused then those who don’t. I mean really, how could we trust someone with a personal connection to the one under fire, they’ll obviously back them all the way to the grave, right Sally?

You see, Jenkins doesn’t know Pitino personally, which makes it much easier to look down from 20,000 feet and make unfounded claims or accusations all the while dismissing the opinions of others simply due to their proximity as a close friend or family member. Jenkins goes so far as to equate the statements from both Richard and Pitino’s nephew to that of the family dog. Real hilarious stuff. Since she’s a respected reporter and author I can understand her skepticism. I’m sure if she were placed in a similar scenario her journalist integrity would far outweigh any personal relationships she may have and she’d be forced to take on the accused with little hesitation just as she did with Pitino, right? Right? Not so much.

You see, Mrs. Jenkins wrote two books with a gentleman by the name of Lance Armstrong. One of them ironically titled ‘It’s Not About The Bike’. During the time of those books (2000, 2004) Lance was a using performance enhancing drugs to help claim seven consecutive Tour de France victories, and like millions of others, when allegations of doping surfaced, Jenkins believed Lance was innocent. So when the truth was revealed I’m sure Jenkins was upset, frustrated, and astounded at how someone she had trusted could lie to her face for so long without her knowing? Right? Quite the opposite actually. In the article ‘ Why I’m not mad at Lance Armstrong’ Jenkins expressed how her personal connection with Lance told her much more about the man than any evidence or testing could…

"I’ve searched high and low for my anger at Lance, and I can’t find it. It’s just not there. I checked — looked in every corner, and I’m empty of it. I’ve tried for weeks now to summon the moral certitude and outrage that others seem to demand, and I don’t have it, maybe because he’s my friend and co-author……but also because my opinion of him was never based on what he did in a bike race in France 10 years ago. And while we’re on that subject, there is no question in my mind he was the hardest-working cyclist in the world, and for the life of me, I can’t find the competitive injustice in his seven Tour de France victories."

That’s interesting, because the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) and the Tour de France officials would disagree. Would you suffice to say that your opinion of Lance is more significant because you knew him on a personal level rather than that as a celebrity figure? Surely not, because that is exactly what you argued against in the case of Pitino’s backers. Maybe I misunderstood; I mean you still think Pitino is responsible for anything and everything that happens to his program right?

"Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because, after reading the rider affidavits, I think it’s apparent that all of the people associated with him are responsible for themselves and their choices, just as I was."

You mean, you don’t blame Lance because everyone, including the investigators and other riders, were accountable for their own actions in this situation? Interesting take.  Almost as if Andre McGee and the players should be held accountable for their alleged actions and we should not necessary shift the blame to the highest ranking official before the other shoe falls.

Maybe I’m not angry at him because after reading the USADA report and the affidavits of the riders who spoke with USADA, I have some common-sense questions that preclude anger. Such as: Shouldn’t an organization with the initials U.S. in front of it have to follow due process?

Funny how in 2012, with a friend under the intense microscope you now deeply care about due process and letting the truth speak for itself instead of placing blame on someone with only a sliver of the total pie being revealed. I could grab another three or four quotes from the article where Mrs Jenkins contradicts the very point she was trying to make with the Pitino family but I think we get the gist of my point. After all, that’s all we have at this time right? The "gist" of the story from a onetime Louisville commit JaQuan Lyle, who has since committed to two more programs. This was what Jenkins was referring to when she said the players in the dorm had already provided the "truth" right? Sounds like that’s all she needed to hear. Close the case, start packing Rick.

I have no personal vendetta against Sally and have no issue with her taking a personal stance, as I said before. I just want us all to take a step back and maybe, just maybe, hear both sides of the story before we light our torches and charge full steam ahead with our pitchforks. If Pitino had knowledge of what has been accused, it’s been a good run coach but your time is up. If he didn’t though, I’m not holding my breath for an apology piece from Mrs. Jenkins or any other national media member who is surely exhausted from dragging the Pitino name through the mud for the last 10 days.

So, why Mrs. Jenkins did Paterno get a pass from you, but not Pitino? I know. Because time passed and facts surfaced. But time and facts don’t sell newspapers and don’t get clicks. See, in 2015, when the target is as big as Pitino and so easy to hit, some of the best can’t help but fire off a few rounds, even if they might be aiming in the wrong direction.

Now excuse me while I grab my blanket and go back into hibernation.