Well now, aren't we all having a good bit of fun?
During an otherwise slow news time for college basketball, last week's two-day appearance by Rick Pitino on a witness stand in federal court in Louisville was a welcome respite for a public that loves to wallow in schadenfreude. Pitino's testimony revealed no new salient facts about the chain of events that brought him to that courtroom, but it did provide us with some salacious, prurient details regarding his restaurant encounter with a woman (not his wife) named Karen Cunagin Sypher.
Those revelations provoked all kinds of predictable tut-tutting and cluck-clucking around the country, filling so many columns, blogs and Twitter feeds. Given all that, you might be forgiven if you assumed that Pitino was the one who was actually on trial.
Look, I am not here to defend Pitino's behavior. Over the last 16 months, he was revealed to be to be a lot of things -- a fool, a cad, a liar, an adulterer and an egotist. In other words, a sinner.
But allow me to remind you that he is something else as well: a victim.
That's right, Rick Pitino is a victim, and of a potentially very serious crime. If Sypher -- who after all is the real defendant here -- is convicted of extortion and lying to federal investigators, she could be sent to prison for up to 10 years and pay a fine of $250,000. Pitino's actions may have been immoral, but they weren't criminal.
To be fair, Sypher has pleaded not guilty to those charges, and she is entitled to the presumption of innocence. We should have our legal verdict soon enough. But as long as we're raking Pitino across the coals by the strength of our righteousness, let's pause for a moment to recall what Sypher is accused of doing. To wit:
• She claimed Pitino raped her that fateful night at Porcini restaurant in Louisville in August 2003. Yet, she allowed him to drive her home later that night. (Pitino denied ever raping Sypher and authorities found no merit to the charges.)
• She claimed Pitino raped her, yet she met him a few weeks later at the apartment of his equipment manager, Tim Sypher. Pitino gave her $3,000. (The coach says it was for medical insurance, but Sypher used it for an abortion.) Then, she alleges, he raped her a second time while Tim stayed upstairs and did nothing to help her.
• She says Pitino raped her twice and that Tim did nothing to help the second time. Yet, eight months later she married Tim Sypher in Nantucket, Mass.
• She says Pitino raped her twice, yet she waited six years to confront him about it. That confrontation initially came in the form of two voice mail messages Pitino received from an unidentified man threatening to take Sypher's accusation to the media unless he gave her money. A written memo later provided to Pitino (at Tim Sypher's request) listed the asking price: $75,000 cash up front, $3,000 per month thereafter, plus college tuition for her kids.
• Although the alleged assaults occurred in April 2003, Sypher didn't file a criminal complaint against Pitino until November 2009, three months after he revealed her alleged extortion attempts to the police and the media, and three months after she was indicted. In the indictment, prosecutors presented evidence that Sypher attempted to extort an employer in 1999 through "strikingly" similar methods.
I do not understand how people have used last week's events to justify new calls for Pitino to be fired. Broadly speaking, we have learned nothing new that we didn't know 16 months ago. All we got was some additional details that allow us to snicker. If you want to make the case that Pitino should be fired for cheating on his wife and trying to cover it up, you needed to make that case last year. Nothing that happened in that courtroom buttresses the argument he should go.
Yes, Pitino brought much of this on himself, but he has also paid a very heavy price. He was forced to reveal his indiscretions to his family, then he had to watch them stand by as his name was dragged through punchlines and headlines. The one time Pitino got emotional on the witness stand last week was when he revealed that he had to ask his son, Richard, who was his assistant at Louisville, to leave and take a job at Florida so he didn't have to see his dad go through all of this at close range. Now, as a result of last week's testimony, Pitino has become a national punchline -- again. He still has his job, but he has lost many pounds of flesh.
Though many of the consequences of Pitino's behavior should be confined to him and his family, I would not argue this is solely a private matter, just as I never asserted that Tiger Woods' indiscretions were solely a private matter. Just as Woods had to bear the responsibility for hurting his sport, his sponsors and his fans, so too must Pitino own up to the ways in which he let down his players, his staff, his university and the Louisville community.
Still, I don't believe it is inconsistent to say that a man's behavior was immoral and irresponsible and still feel sympathy for him. So forgive me if I decline to join the stone-throwing chorus. Rick Pitino did some very bad things, but this punishment does not fit his crime.