While Pitino claims his innocence, as he has in each of the scandals involving his programs, I am not writing today to litigate that case, nor to get into the messy details of it, nor to argue his innocence or guilt. I am writing to talk about how disappointing it is when people you look up to fall short in any way, but especially with regards to their character and integrity. Perhaps, I feel this more personally than others as I spent 6 summers working for Coach Pitino in summer camps at the University of Kentucky.
Let me say right here that I am no saint. I have fallen short in life like anyone else. I am not proud of some of the transgressions I have committed in my life. I have talked about character and integrity to the young people I have taught and coached for my entire life, yet I had my moments where I did not live up to my own words. Sometimes, I did not even realize that what I was doing was not showing good integrity; other times I knew what I was doing was wrong.
Let me also add that it is not like I made a habit of displaying poor character and integrity. I was always a “good kid” who did the right things for the most part. Most people would say that, in general, I have been a good example of being a person of integrity. However, I had my moments where I slipped and fell short of being who I said I was and who I wanted to be. I would imagine most people in this world could probably say something similar about themselves. It is one of the human elements many of us deal with.
Fortunately, I have had a conscience to guide me through those moments. Each time I slipped, I looked in the mirror and asked myself who I was, who I wanted to be, and were my actions becoming of that person that I wanted to be? When the answer was “No,” I worked to change my behaviors and to then grow from them. While I continue to be a flawed human being, I am a better person today than I was twenty years ago. And I hope to be a better person twenty years into the future. That is how we should all be. Seeking to improve who we are as we go through life.
I have had my share of “heroes” throughout my life. As a child and even on into my young adulthood, I put these people on pedestals. For the most part, they each stayed on those pedestals through the years. They also each fell off the pedestals at times. Sometimes they were allowed to be placed back onto the pedestals, based on how they reacted to their falls from grace. Others were never allowed back up there. Rick Pitino will not be going back up onto his pedestal. He has also added to the little bit of cynicism that has crept into my life over the last twenty to thirty years that has made me more cautious about putting people on pedestals anymore.
It’s a shame, though. We need our heroes. They help us see that there is good in our world, something to strive for, to aspire to be. I want my children and grandchildren to have people to look up to. I want them to be able to say, “I want to be like him.” “I want to act like she does.” I also want to still be able to feel that way myself. But with each Rick Pitino that falls off a pedestal, it becomes harder and harder to find those heroes.
That is why it so critical that we in the teaching and coaching and parenting world do all that we can to be the positive leaders and models that we can be for young people. We need to be examples of a life of character and integrity. We need to show people that there is good, there is hope, there is a right way to do things.
Yes, like anyone else, we will fall short at times. After all, we are all still human. But we must do all that we can to be the best role models we can be. There are so many people watching us. More importantly, there are so many people taking their cues from us on how to live their own lives. We must constantly ask ourselves, “Is my behavior exemplary? Am I doing something that I want the young people looking up to me to do? Is this the person that I want to be and that I want to be known as?”
While the answers to those questions are the most important ones we will ever utter, whether aloud or just to ourselves, the key is whether or not our actions will exemplify or defy those answers. By living a life of integrity and of example for all those who are watching you, you will be your best while helping them learn how to be their best.
**Author’s Note** While the word “hero” gets thrown around a lot and many of you will say that Pitino was never a hero in the first place, my point in using that term was that he is someone that I (and many others) have looked up to over the years. So I say that someone like that has been a “hero” of mine because of the impact he has had on me as a coach and a leader.
I realize that there is not much that he has done to be considered a true hero. We have heard so many stories of true heroes who stepped up and saved lives in Las Vegas this past week, as well as the storm-ravaged communities in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean over the last months. I would never want to equate the true heroism these people have shown with the role and the actions of a college basketball coach. Yet, the way many people look up to our coaches and leaders in our lives, “hero” is one way that they sometimes get described. I hope you understand my meaning when using that word to describe Pitino.