In today’s society we live our lives out loud. Personal dramas spill out in memoirs and on reality television. Facebook shares our every feeling. “Wednesday morning. I’m still bushed. Lots o’ coffee today!” Twitter instantly broadcasts even the most mundane of our moves. “Grabbing a snack — Cheetos — then off to bed.”
Because of this constant and often assaulting spew, we’re conditioned; we expect to hear details, especially when public figures are involved.
So when we hear that a very public situation is “being handled internally,” we wonder what’s not being divulged. We wonder whether something is being covered up or swept under the rug.
Recently a University of Louisville homecoming party in Jeffersonville turned ugly when an altercation resulted in the arrests of basketball starters Terrence Jennings and Jerry Smith. According to the police report, officers twice used a Taser on the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Jennings as he fought with police who were trying to subdue him.
Just days after the incident, Jennings apologized to police for his actions that night. Both players have since pleaded guilty to resisting police, resulting in probation and community service.
That apology was refreshing. Although it was brief and presumably heavily lawyered, not once did Jennings try to shift blame or cop to a now-common Cardinal-invoked euphemism by referring to his arrest as an “indiscretion.” It appears Jennings took a page from his coach’s playbook for press conferences. Pitino said just this past August, “When you have a problem, if you tell the truth, your problem becomes a part of your past. If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.”
If Jennings has a future in pro sports this incident could be the best thing that happened to him. Learning the consequences of unacceptable public behavior now might save him from more serious trouble in the future, a la Willie Williams, JaJuan Spillman or even Plaxico Burris.
Coach Rick Pitino told ESPN.com, “Any time you defy a police officer, it’s serious.” He also said Jennings and Smith are being punished but won’t miss any game time.
What kind of punishment is that? Well, the official word from the school regarding consequences the pair face is that the matter is being handled internally.
A student athlete fights police to the degree officers feel the need to Taser him not once but twice, his teammate is so verbally and physically abusive police arrest him as well, and the state school’s response is, “It’s none of your business”?
Why is it such a matter of national security that the school won’t divulge the punishment Pitino feels fits this incident?
The University of Louisville seems to have forgotten it has a responsibility to alumni, fans and the public. It represents our community on a national stage. University officials have professed to embrace transparency. This is a teachable moment. These players made serious mistakes. Come clean about their penalty and let them perform their penance and go on with their lives and the season.
Handling this incident internally just invites skepticism. The university’s history of pseudo-punishments for wayward athletes suggests there’s good reason to question. Too many times Cardinal athletes have been slapped on the wrist and given umpteen chances while carefully crafted public statements filled with mock outrage are distributed to placate the public until enough wins are chalked up to erase the memory of whatever event occurred.
Bench ’em? That would be the most public of punishments, but sources inside the athletic department say the mentality of young athletes today is that they don’t care about being forced to sit a game. They say what really burns them is Coach heaping on brutal crack-of-dawn workouts; according to reports, that has already happened.
Extra drills might be punishing but they’re not necessarily punishment. Punishment for being arrested should be stiffer than what Jillian puts contestants through on “The Biggest Loser.” Especially because the additional physical conditioning results in players being in better shape, which should improve their performance.
Maybe there’s more to Pitino’s punishment. But how would we know when the matter is being “handled internally”?