(Folks. In the wake of Bobby Petrino’s firing, an updated column will be coming shortly.)
The great thing about sports is it turns normal everyday people into idiots, and I mean that in a good way. Nowhere else in society can we find white collar, blue collar and no collar somewhat spiritually united at football tailgates, wearing the same goofy fan wear, sharing conspiracy theories that they read on message boards (so they must be true) and waiting for their turn to vent on sports blab radio (between meetings).
The worst thing about sports is it turns normal everyday people into idiots, and I mean that in the worst-possible, blithering way. Nowhere else can we find people, regardless of race, creed, religion, economic level or social standing, spontaneously lose all sense of rational thought or perspective.
We see it often when an athlete is embraced as a hero, a need, regardless of his disregard for laws, ethics or moral decency, simply because of his statistics and the team’s place in the standings.
We saw it this past year when fans, some of whom actually have jobs, degrees and everything, protested on the campus of Penn State in support of Joe Paterno, with no thought or regard for the children who are the subject of horrible sex-abuse allegations.
We see it again now. Over 21,000 Arkansas fans have joined a “Team Save Bobby Petrino” Facebook page. Some-200 fans showed up for a public protest to save the job of a man who for the better part of his career has proved to be a liar, a coward and morally bankrupt — all of which might matter if he went 7-6 instead of 11-2 last season.
One carried a sign that read, “What’s wrong with scoring in the offseason?”
Another one read, “Define Innappropriate” (sic).
Another read: “Blond Hair. Don’t care. #FreeBobby” – and that one was held up by a woman.
“I’m not surprised by much anymore,” said Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. “Our culture, particularly our sports culture, is so directed at winning that on campuses too many people overlook what appear to be egregious acts by coaches and athletes. Upon reflection, they might change their opinion. I think we saw that at Penn State when students protested right away, but after a while there was a more balanced assessment.”
Petrino’s acts aren’t surprising. He proved himself flawed and devoid of character long ago. He lied and ducked out the back door at previous jobs, most notably the Falcons, where he didn’t even complete the season. Players knew him as two-faced and cowardly. While they were preparing for a game, he was talking to Arkansas. When even the esteemed Warrick Dunn calls you “selfish” and “a liar,” you know you’ve done something wrong.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long amusingly is being cast as some upstanding guy in all this. Remember, he went behind owner Arthur Blank’s back to interview Petrino during the season while the coach was under contract. If it’s up to Long, Petrino stays. Why? Because he wins.
But it’s not that simple. This isn’t merely about adultery and a coach lying. If Petrino gets fired, it will be because he exposed a publicly funded university to sexual harassment lawsuits and significant financial damages. He admits to having an “inappropriate relationship” with a subordinate — who happens to be a 25-year-old blonde who’s engaged to another athletic department employee.
If nothing else, Long can turn this into a trashy beach novel.
But Arkansas fans don’t care about lawsuits. They don’t care about a betrayed wife and a broken family. They don’t care about an Arkansas assistant swim coach learning that his fiancee is having an “inappropriate relationship” with the football coach.
Maybe they would care if they were Petrino’s wife or one of his children. Or the mother of the swim team’s coach, Josh Morgan. Or the father of Petrino’s passenger, Jessica Dorrell — because that sure would make me want to knock down a certain football coach’s door.
Matt Couch, the Arkansas fan who organized Monday’s protest, played to his audience: “None of us are condoning what he did, but we know it’s Easter weekend, a time for forgiveness. And most importantly, we all want to win some football games, don’t we?”
The only thing that could’ve drawn a bigger cheer would’ve been if he crushed a Budweiser can on his forehead.
The fans’ mindset: Forget about morality. Forget what’s right or wrong. There’s the Alabama game to think about.
Pig, Sooie. Pathetic.
By Jeff Schultz