Real integrity shines through scandals

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 15, 2012

Who would ever have guessed that a shining example of integrity being more important than success would be found at a Southeastern Conference football school?

But that is exactly what happened Tuesday night when University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long took to the podium to announce he had fired 55-year-old head coach Bobby Petrino for an inappropriate relationship with a 28-year-old former graduate who Petrino had recently hired, paid $20,000 and then tried to keep covered up.

Does this sound like a football issue, commentary best reserved for the sports pages?

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It isn’t.

This situation — and the standup way in which it was handled — stands as a stark contrast to how our society as a whole handles these types of situations.

Long provided lessons about handling scandals and difficult situations that transcend sports.

Far too often we see politicians and their supporters lie about inappropriate behavior. We see corporations go to great lengths to protect their own and stifle the truth. We see athletes, entertainers, and other celebrities earn a slap on the wrist for transgressions that would put the average Joe behind bars.

Think about Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jim Tressell, Anthony Weiner, Brett Favre and many others.

But Long — an athletic director in a college football conference with a reputation for bending rules and turning blind eyes — didn’t make excuses. He didn’t dodge the situation. He didn’t look for the easy way out.

No, Long stood in front of dozens of members of the media and outlined exactly why Petrino was fired. The man answered clearly and honestly every question asked of him in the more-than-25-minute session.

In this day and age, when many rule breakers are allowed to walk away with lucrative buyouts, veiled retirements and sugar-coated changes of directions, Petrino was fired with cause.

In the real world, when you lie to your boss and engage in inappropriate personnel matters, that is what happens.

How refreshing to see that happen in the fantasy land where celebrities and big-time college football coaches live.

Petrino compiled a 34-17 record at Arkansas including a 21-5 mark over the past two years and had the team ranked number five in the nation at the end of 2011.

As is often the case, Long could have been swayed by success and the pressure for more of it.

He wasn’t.

Instead, the athletic director simply did the right thing by holding a public figure and supposed leader accountable to same standards we all must live by.

This situation wasn’t a game, but integrity certainly was the winner in this final score.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.