These are the kinds of stories that get great headlines. They draw in big pageviews. They’re scandalous. They’re hot.
And they make this writer frickin’ sick.
Bobby Petrino has been placed on paid leave after University of Arkansas officials learned he failed to disclose that a female UA employee was riding with him when he wrecked his motorcycle over the weekend.
As ESPN.com so gleefully put it in the story linked to above, the employee was “half his age.” Petrino is 51. His passenger is 25.
The Hogs’ football coach apologized Thursday for keeping that part of the story a secret. He claimed he was trying to protect his family and wanted to keep an “inappropriate relationship from becoming public.”
Arkansas AD Jeff Long said during a late-Thursday press conference that he was “at the beginning of the review” into Petrino’s actions and that he did not know “what I’m going to find.” Long gave no timeline for Petrino’s return to the Razorback football program that he has so quickly rebuilt.
Via press release, Petrino said:
“I will fully cooperate with the university throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my athletic director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks.”
At the moment, assistant head coach Taver Johnson has been placed atop the Arkansas football program. Johnson joined the Razorback staff from Ohio State in January.
The passenger on Petrino’s motorcycle was 25-year-old football program employee Jessica Dorrell. Dorrell is a former UA volleyball player who was hired on March 28 — yes, just about a week ago — as the football program’s student-athlete development coordinator by Petrino himself. That fact could prove to be the ultimate downfall of the coach. As a state employee, hiring one’s mistress is most likely a no-no.
Long was reportedly unaware of Dorrell’s involvement in the accident until Petrino called him just minutes before a police report was released to the public on Thursday evening. That report said Petrino was riding with Dorrell when he lost control of his motorcycle.
The coach suffered broken ribs and various other cuts and abrasions in the accident. He returned to the practice field Tuesday wearing a neckbrace. Part of the coach’s Thursday statement read:
“I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces. That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed.
In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.”
Initially the coach told the press that he was alone on his bike at the time of the accident. Lying to the press will only add to Petrino’s misery.
Petrino is married and has four children and those two facts will help kick this story into absolute hyperdrive. Everyone loves to jump on the sins of others and Arkansas’ head football coach is about to learn that lesson the hard way.
A motorcycle crash? That’s a top story for one episode of “SportsCenter.” An “inappropriate relationship” with someone “half his age,” is day-in, day-out fodder for all the shows featuring talking heads (who’ve likely engaged in worse behavior themselves). Hiring the person with whom you’re having said inappropriate relationship? “Ugh” is the only word that comes to mind.
Sadly, this writer isn’t a fan of the moral majority in this country. I feel a bit queasy whenever the time comes to jump on someone else for a moral failing. (Do a quick site search of our Damon Evans coverage and you’ll find that we tried to handle the dismissal of Georgia’s AD as a sad story rather than as a joke.)
All that said, please, don’t take the above paragraph as a defense of Petrino’s actions. He acted stupidly. And he has his own family to answer to for those actions. He also owes his boss, Long, and the University of Arkansas’ president an answer. He represents the University of Arkansas.
But he sure as Hell doesn’t owe me, you or any other ESPN, CNN, FoxNews or Twitter-using smart ass an explanation. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a closet full of my own skeletons to worry about without trying to destroy someone else for his.
But the fact of the matter remains — Petrino’s contract with Arkansas features a clause that could allow UA to dismiss him for “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.”
In fact, the only thing working in the coach’s favor is his rapid-fire success in Fayetteville. If Petrino were a .500 coach at this point, he’d already be on his way out the door. Still, his on-field success to date might not be able to save him from the whole, “you hired your mistress” angle of the story.
Make no mistake, this is a home run of a topic. And you can bet which trash sites will jump all over it with snarky comments and judgmental attitudes. What could be funnier than a man ruining his life with a bad decision, after all?
Too bad you won’t get that type of coverage here. Oh, we’ll cover this crap because it could lead to the firing of one of the SEC’s best football coaches. We can not ignore that fact.
But we won’t rejoice in it, either. And as a result we won’t get the pageviews cooked up by those sites that do pile on with five stories per day on this sad tale.
So be it.
Billy Joel once sang he’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. Well, I’d rather empathize with the sinners than laugh with the bloggers.
Here’s hoping Petrino can rebound from his failure. Lord knows he’s not the first person to have one.