The college basketball world was afire last week with all the elements needed for a juicy story: strippers, one of the countries’ most fabled college basketball programs, cash from an unknown source, top college athletes, and did I mention strippers?
Allegedly, Andre McGee, a former player and later director of basketball operations at the University of Louisville, paid for strippers and sex at parties in the dorms from 2010-2014 that involved players and recruits of the basketball team. This has led to a buzz of publicity of the kind you don’t want. What did legendary head coach Rick Pitino know and when did he know it? Where did the $10,000 of supposed payments come from? What, if any, NCAA violations were broken in the process?
It may take years, if ever, for the truth and nothing but the truth to finally reveal itself. Although I’m sure we’ll be treated to bits and pieces of the story in the interim from sources such as an NCAA investigation, tell-all books, and appearances on daytime talk shows suited for tawdriness. While the drama plays itself out, one bit of conjecture gave me that woozy what-in-the-name-of-George-Orwell-is-going-on headache.
Speculation has begun that if the allegations turn out to be true, the NCAA may strip Louisville of their 2013 NCAA basketball championship due to NCAA rules violations arising from this affair. Ponder that possibility for a second. Are we then supposed to pretend that the championship game where Louisville beat the University of Michigan in front of thousands of fans and witnessed by millions more on TV never happened? The reality is the NCAA has played this card several times before, the most famous example being the 2004 USC Trojan football team who, seven years later, had to “vacate” their championship. Funny, I don’t recall the NCAA “vacating” the revenues it made from ticket sales, sponsorship deals, and TV broadcast rights from that game, but that is besides my central point. The Olympics also use this maneuver by stripping medals from athletes well after closing ceremonies. Often this is done because it was later discovered that the medal placing athletes had used unapproved performance enhancing drugs. Sometimes, even after losing a medal, an athlete will get it back following further investigation. Talk about your exciting sporting event. You won! Months later, you didn’t win! Then several months after that, you won again! All over an event that may have lasted mere seconds.
Some of you are probably saying good. Cheaters shouldn’t prosper. I say beware. History, like whiskey, is best served straight up, and there is something very Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong-un about rewriting an event that happened and giving it an alternate ending. Many are amused when Kim Jong-un Photoshops out Uncle So and So from all previous official images shortly after he had fallen out of favor with the Dear Leader and then executed. But don’t laugh too loud. Crazy rewrites of even historically significant events are believed. Just Google the holocaust didn’t happen or 9-11 truthers and see what you discover. When officials of any stripe start altering the past even for the “right reason,” my internal alarm goes off. Whether we are talking basketball, football, or a more serious subject matter the same principle of history should apply: the truth should be our barometer, even and perhaps especially if the truth is ugly.
The meaning of history is a powerful tool and George Orwell summed it up perfectly with, “He who controls the past controls the future.” And it is with great purpose, not coincidence that within a generation we have seen sweeping changes on how certain subjects are covered in schools: the founding fathers, Christopher Columbus, and the general merits of Western Civilization immediately come to mind. One may think all this is a nod to cultural changes, but I suspect it is driven more by those who wish to change the culture.
The sports world is full of contentious items from the past that would be tempting to change if you could. But to what end? For example, should we act as if Barry Bonds isn’t baseball’s all-time home run king because he may have used steroids to get there? The reality is Bonds did hit more home runs in sanctioned Major League games than anyone else. That is a fact. By all means add all the accurate back-story that goes with it; history should be about the facts, warts and all. If nothing else, let’s let sports championships be settled on the playing field, not by backroom committees who retroactively decide what is fair.
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