Column: Sports always provides a conduit to forgiveness
Sorry, Rick Pitino’s return to the NCAA Tournament is not some feel-good tale of redemption, no matter how others might try to portray it.
Same goes for all those other coaches and players who got second, third, even fourth chances to make up for their transgressions — or, even worse, have them shoved beneath a rug that no one is ever supposed to go looking under.
The bottom line: Just because you have a penchant for winning, that doesn’t make you a winner.
We’re looking at you, Les Miles.
You, too, Domingo German.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget Kareem Hunt. And Kyle Larson. And Mickey Callaway. And Hugh Freeze. And Bobby Petrino. Even Kobe Bryant, whose sexual assault case from early in his dazzling career was largely forgotten amid all the tributes that flowed in the wake of his tragic death.
Sports has always provided an undemanding conduit to forgiveness, a get-out-jail-free card to anyone who displays a knack for bolstering the bottom line of whatever team or school comes calling.
Pitino is only the latest example in a long line of those who could rely on their success inside the lines to trump whatever sins they committed away from the arenas and stadiums.
And, rest assured, he won’t be the last.
Let’s not forget, Pitino didn’t even lose his job at Louisville after a tawdry extortion case that stemmed from his brief sexual encounter inside a restaurant with a woman who was not his wife. Later, it was revealed that he had paid for an abortion and the woman wound up marrying a member of his staff.
Granted, Pitino was the victim of the extortion plot, but his personal behavior should have been a huge red flag to the university.
It was not.
Pitino’s downfall in 2017 came only after the Cardinals were accused of paying players and arranging escorts for potential recruits. While he was never tied directly to the case, and dubiously maintained that he knew nothing about the brothel that had been set up right outside his door, the school had little choice except to send him packing.
That should have been the end of Pitino’s coaching career.
It was not.
After an exile to Greece, Pitino returned to the college ranks last year at Iona, following a well-worn path for those tinged by scandal. He wasn’t going to be hired by a blue-blood school like Louisville — not yet, anyway — so he landed with a lesser-known program that could smooth the whitewashing of his previous scandals.
In his first season with the Gaels, he led them to the NCAA Tournament.
Naturally, Pitino was quick to downplay all his missteps along the way, a convenient tack that doesn’t seem to bother those who hired him to be the leader of young men at the private, Catholic college in New Rochelle, New York.
No matter how brief their appearance in the Big Dance, the Gaels will be dancing all the way to the bank.
“Personally, I’ve got to make amends with my family if I’ve done things wrong,” Pitino said ahead of Saturday’s game against second-seeded Alabama. “Professionally, they know what I’m all about. They know that nothing being said has any semblance of truth at all. They’re fine with that. We’re a family that is very strong together. We don’t pay attention to that.”
Our eyes had not stopped rolling when Pitino further insisted that he intends to finish his career at Iona, a school with roughly 4,000 students that plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Again, he would prefer you not look at his history as a coaching vagabond who’s always had his eye out for a better job. We’ll see if he sticks to his guns if a school with a high-profile vacancy, such as Indiana or UNLV, comes calling.
“You could come to me with the greatest job on Earth and I would not consider it,” the 68-year-old Pitino said. “I’m not going anywhere. If I go anywhere, it’s going to be retirement. And I’m not looking forward to retiring any time soon.”
LSU should have sent Miles into retirement way back in 2013 after a report detailing a wide range of sexual misconduct allegations against the Mad Hatter, including how he tried to sexualize the staff of student workers in the football program by, for instance, allegedly demanding that he wanted blondes with big breasts, and “pretty girls.”
Then-athletic director Joe Alleva even recommended that Miles be fired, but the higher-ups at LSU wouldn’t hear of it — we’re guessing because the coach was only two years removed from a trip to the national championship game.
Miles was eventually fired during the 2016 season, but only because the Tigers’ record had taken a nosedive. In fact, the school went to great lengths to ensure the ugly allegations never came to light, even as Miles landed another job at lowly Kansas. Only after a lawsuit by USA Today forced LSU to release the long-buried report did Miles lose his job with the Jayhawks, too
Of course, that was an easy call to make in light of a 3-18 record in Miles’ first two years as coach. We’re guessing Kansas wouldn’t have been so quick to act if Miles had gone 18-3 instead.
Meanwhile, as baseball prepares for a new season, German has returned to the mound for the New York Yankees after being sidelined since late in the 2019 season for an alleged domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend.
Initially, there were signs that German might be scorned in the clubhouse. First baseman Luke Voit said his teammate was “skating on thin ice” and that “a lot of guys look at him differently now.”
But, as usual, those harsh feelings melted away as German turned in nine scoreless innings over his first three spring starts, all but locking up a return to the Yankees rotation.
Remember, this is a guy who was 18-4 in that last season he pitched. This is a guy who can help the Yankees end a dozen-year drought since their last World Series championship.
“He looked really polished,’’ manager Aaron Boone told New York reporters after German’s last outing. “You kind of say, ‘That’s a really good pitcher right there. A guy who can do a lot of things on the mound.'”
Off the mound?
All is forgiven.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry196 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Columnist