The University of Louisville's serious problem is not the potential NCAA sanctions, but the dangerous environment for women that it has created and nurtured.
The University of Louisville has a serious problem. It is bigger than any potential NCAA sanctions, and far more disturbing than the prospect of Rick Pitino getting suspended. The school’s athletic department is teaching its male athletes that women can be used and discarded.
That’s not in an official handbook, but look: The basketball program’s former director of operations, Andre McGee, has been accused of setting players and recruits up with prostitutes. The school can try to paint McGee as a rogue employee acting on his own, but let’s remember who coaches the football team: Bobby Petrino, who was fired by Arkansas for hiring his mistress, then lying about it. Most schools would not go near Petrino. Louisville welcomed him home.
When you use women as bait, men will always see them as bait. Why would Louisville male athletes treat women with respect?
Sexual assault has become an epidemic in sports because too many athletes are accustomed to using women whenever and however they please. They don’t even know where the lines are. They don’t care. They don’t even think about it. They see a woman, and they think she is there to have sex with them.
“Players say ‘We can find women anywhere,’” says Kathy Redmond Brown, founder of the National Coalition against Violent Athletes. “The problem is, even if the women say no, you’re still doing the same thing. If you have an athletic department that is pimping out women to recruits, of course they’re going to get that idea.”
Redmond Brown does not think Louisville is alone in using women to lure recruits. She thinks Louisville just happened to get caught. But she also has some experience with the school. In 2006, Louisville asked Redmond Brown to visit the school and talk about athletic culture and violence against women.
She has made a lot of those trips over the years, to a lot of athletic departments. She knows a bad reaction when she gets one.
“Sometimes you get a hostility to the message,” she says, and her trip to Louisville was one of those times. Redmond Brown remembers “laughing and snickers and shouting out that you normally don’t see.”
You might think she heard that from the football and men’s basketball players. You would be wrong.
“You’re getting it from the B sports, and from the girls,” Redmond Brown says. “That was much more troubling to me, was to get that from the girls. For the girls to talk to me, being hostile toward the other girls, even their own teammates … when you get that, you start wondering what’s there. You think: Something is not right in this environment.
“When I went in to speak with them, they had a view that in order to be accepted by the male athletes, that they had to toe that line. And that’s a very threatening place for a female athlete to be in. Because that means: If I say anything, my coach or I will face retribution.”
Retribution? Really? So—this is just a wild, off-the-top-of-my-head example—what if an assistant track coach claims the head coach is acting in sexist and discriminatory fashion, and she raises concerns with human resources? Is it possible that she would then be fired for that?
That’s crazy and could never happen at Louisville.
Add all of this up, and you’ll want to take a shower. There is no proof that Pitino knew about the prostitutes, and he seems too savvy to get involved with something so reckless. Then again, he once had extramarital sex at an upscale Louisville restaurant. He was later extorted for it.
I didn’t care about Pitino cheating on his wife when it happened. It was his business, right? But the context is changing now. It seems emblematic of a larger problem at Louisville.
We keep looking at this story about prostitutes through the wrong lenses. We see it as players having casual sex, which goes on everywhere. Or we wonder what the NCAA will do. We’re missing the point. If Louisville is guilty, the school has created a dangerous environment for women, and it has opened itself to lawsuits from all angles.
“If I’m a parent, and I found out my son was involved in that… I’m going after Rick Pitino,” Redmond Brown says. “And I’m going after the Louisville athletic department. You can’t, as the adult, have this other side that is permitting, condoning and encouraging that behavior. If I’m a female at that school, and I’m finding out this is happening on that basketball team, it sets me up as a sitting duck. I’m going after that school. It goes back to that culture. These cultures are being set up, and nobody is watching anything. Nobody is supervising. This throws gasoline on the entire fire.”
Redmond Brown did not see this coming at Louisville. But she saw it coming somewhere.
“Honestly, and I hate to say it like this, but the only way Louisville saves face is to clean house. That’s the only way they can change the culture, is to clean house. That’s it.”
Like most schools with winning teams, Louisville would rather paint its house than clean it. Pitino is a Hall of Famer who recently won a national championship. Athletic director Tom Jurich has built an unlikely athletic powerhouse in Louisville. The smart betting money is on spin and damage control.
But it was telling that when Louisville President Dr. James Ramsey released a statement, he expressed support for Jurich, who hired Petrino, but did not mention Pitino.
Maybe Ramsey remembers the embarrassment of Pitino’s extramarital affair. Maybe he is just protecting himself in case he finds out later that Pitino knew about the prostitutes.
But it would be nice if somebody at Louisville recognized that this situation requires more than just the usual public-relations moves. It’s about a culture that was created and nurtured over the years.
Kathy Redmond Brown wanted to help change that culture. That’s why she went to Louisville in 2006. She quickly got the sense that some people at Louisville wanted a change—“They were trying to fix something that nobody would dare to fix”—but others did not. She left and waited for Louisville to follow up with her. She didn’t hear much from the school. Now we all know why.