Sypher found guilty. What now for Pitino? Did the trial change anything?

Before I start writing, for the third or fourth time, on this Rick Pitino-Karen Sypher situation, it occurs to me that we’re not in a much different spot than we were in a year ago.

We’ve known for that long the basics of this restaurant-sex/abortion/extortion story. We learned some more details in the trial.

Today, Karen Sypher was found guilty by a Federal jury of six criminal counts involving extortion, lying to the FBI and retaliating against Pitino by taking her rape claim to police.

I keep coming away with the same thought, and it was the thought I had as I watched Sypher stoically listen as the guilty verdicts were read today, and it was the thought I had as I watched Pitino’s two uncomfortable days on the stand.

This was all needless. Set aside the act that started it all, which was reckless and foolish, among many other things, particularly for someone of Pitino’s public profile.

This whole public spectacle was needless. Sypher could have stopped at any point. She could have stopped talking. Even after the authorities were involved, she could have accepted a deal. An ex-husband even testified that she rejected a plea deal.

There are a couple of questions here. The first is, at what point is the public cost too high for a university, or any institution or business, when the actions of its most prominent employee put it in a bad light? Answer: It is different for every institution but U of L, clearly, never reached that point with Pitino. That is its decision. Not only has it backed Pitino, but today athletic director Tom Jurich backed him with enthusiasm. Back in April, the school gave Pitino a contract extension. And to be honest, why would it’s stance have changed any now? The news broke a year ago, and the trial was far less a national story than the original story was last year.

More damage, however, was done locally. It is here that every detail of every day was absorbed by the public. And the second questoin is, how does Pitino repair that damage, and realistically, can he repair it? Answer: He can never fully repair it. He has apologized to fans, to the university, to his family. Now there are three more steps: 1). Humility. 2). Time. 3). Victories.

Jaded though that last one sounds.

Otherwise, as I look back over what I wrote when this first broke, and what I have written since, I don’t see where my opinion has changed much.

Aug. 13, 2009:

–Many people have asked what I think about all this.

I think it’s a shame that so many parents are having to screen the sports page before handing it to their kids. (We need all the readers we can get.) I think that the children and families affected need the support of everyone in this community and should be treated with respect and empathy.

I think this had no business entering the public arena, but both Pitino and Sypher, by their actions, are responsible for it getting there. I think nobody condones it, but almost everybody I know has been affected by these kinds of things in their own lives – if not directly, then through friends or family.

— But it is sex that sells. And scandal. And the picking apart of public lives has become, in itself, a participatory sport. I think our predilection for that – and I include myself – is as sad as the predilection of our role models to disappoint us.

— Some are outraged. They have a right to be. I’m not going to defend any of this sordid business. I wouldn’t send a son to Pitino for Sunday School class. And if we tell our kids to emulate any sports figures today, we do so at our own risk.

But I have known Pitino as a real person. I have watched him professionally from close range. And if the question is, would I send a son to play for him? My answer is yes, I would.

July 30, 2010

— Rick Pitino has spawned a thousand punch lines. And though his involvement with Karen Sypher’s extortion trial ended when he left the courtroom after testifying late Wednesday and early Thursday, he’s going to be taking those hits for a while.

But it is not a game, no matter how much you reduce the thing to its most lurid details. Behind the titters and the Twitters are lives, including those of some young people, and an entire community that doesn’t deserve this ride on the Too Much Information Express – no matter how entertaining it is to some.

And when you think about the painfully personal testimony, the invasive questioning he experienced, and then think about the price he paid with his family, his teenage daughter opening the door of their home to find a tabloid reporter asking if her parents’ marriage was “a sham” last year, you realize that a few wise cracks may be the least of the hits Pitino takes.

He knew the hits were coming and appeared to accept them once he decided to press the legal issue. In fact, when I look back at the past two days, I can’t escape the question: Would Sypher going public with her rape and abortion story – as it is alleged she was threatening to do – have been worse than this?

Pitino got to tell his side. He testified that he believed he was set up. That Sypher was not pregnant with his child. Still, you wonder if that opportunity was worth it.

It’s hard to say exactly how this will affect him. I suspect nothing happened in the past two days that will make a significant difference.

Back when this first broke, I asked for your opinions as readers and fans, or non-fans, of Pitino. There were a lot of thoughtful responses. In fact, too many to copy in here. But you can read them all by clicking this link.

If anyone’s thoughts have changed, I’m willing to share them in a similar manner on this blog. Just email me at

Finally, a few national writers have weighed in over the past couple of days. A collection of their opinions

Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports says the scandal has only made Pitino’s job harder.

The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy says firing Pitino now wouldn’t make sense for Louisville.

Jay Mariotti at says Pitino has lost all credibility and should resign.

In an point-counterpoint Dan Shaughnessy wonders how Pitino keeps his job.

In the same feature, Seth Davis says Pitino is a victim.


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