Having lived in Auburn, Alabama, for four years (and being a graduate of the University of Tennessee, where I was a member of the track team), I am fully aware of the importance of college athletics in the South, and especially football. For those of you on another planet, therefore, let me point out that the earthquake that shook some southern cities last week was not really a movement of some geological plates but rather was the fallout from the coaching scandal that engulfed the University of Alabama.
If you have not experienced Southeastern Conference college football and are not aware of the long history of sports success at Alabama, then much of this article will not make sense to you. However, those of you familiar with that social phenomenon known as Alabama football will understand all this very clearly.
A couple of weeks ago, people in Alabama found out via the press and by university officials that the newly-hired Crimson Tide (the team name for UA) football coach Mike Price allegedly had spent the night with a call girl while in Pensacola, Florida, for a golf tournament. He compounded that gaffe by taking a couple of side trips to a local topless dance club, supposedly paying a couple hundred bucks for some private dances.
Having been warned by university officials previously to curb his famous forays into the night life of Tuscaloosa, a university town populated with bars, Price’s Pensacola peccadilloes were too much and Alabama’s new president told him to hit the road. The Great Sages of the press, and especially those journalists who hail from such southern hot spots as New York City and Washington, D.C., are trying to spin this thing as a northerner not knowing the ways of the "Bible Belt." As usual, that is hogwash.
First, it was not a “Bible-Belter” who fired Price; it was the university president, and most college presidents I have known are not political or social conservatives. Second, most of the so-called “blue noses” that northern writers have castigated actually wanted to keep Price on the job. For example, the father of Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle, who publicly pleaded with the president for Price’s job, runs a Christian children’s home near Gadsden, Alabama. Furthermore, back in the days when Alabama really was a Bible-Belt state, Alabamians tolerated private sexual and alcohol consumption behavior from public personae that even atheists would not sanction today.
Thus, it was not those sexually-suppressed, Bible-thumping fundamentalists who demanded Price’s resignation. Instead, it was a politically-correct, progressive university president who decided that the partying habits of a football coach would not fit within the public image he and the faculty wanted the University of Alabama to enjoy.
A sportswriter remarked that had Price been President of the United States, he might have been able to engage in such behavior — and keep his job. His reference, of course, was to Bill Clinton, who apparently was trying to emulate the sexual behavior of his reckless hero, John F. Kennedy, who was well-known for his unlimited sexual appetites and as president was in a position to fulfill them.
No doubt, more than a few folks will point out the blatant hypocrisy in which Liberals such as the Alabama president were willing to tolerate Clinton’s behavior while demanding Price’s scalp. Yet, I do not believe that hypocrisy is the lesson to be learned here. After all, as fallible human beings, all of us are hypocrites, and most of us have some skeletons in our closets that we would prefer remain out of public view.
I do believe that some important lessons exist here, however. The first is that this latest hand wringing over a coach’s behavior has more to do with the politicizing of life that began a few decades ago and continues its destructive patterns. The second is that people like football coaches in many ways are much more important people in our society than U.S. presidents.
When Gloria Steinem more than 30 years ago declared that "the personal is political," she was trying to extend the boundaries of politics into personal lives so that individuals who did not live up to feminist expectations could be publicly pilloried. Witness the public angst stirred up when Anita Hill alleged that Clarence Thomas had said a few off-color things to her. For that matter, the rise of the crime of "sexual harassment" is little more than an attempt to politicize the workplace — a successful attempt, I might add.
(For the record, I do not tell off-color jokes, grope females — or males — and keep my office door open when students — male and female — come to visit.)
Thus, while the so-called blue noses pleaded with the Alabama administration for Price to keep his job, the "sexually-liberated" administrators and university faculty representatives demanded the coach’s scalp. Keep in mind that many of the same persons calling for Price to be fired also stood firmly behind Bill Clinton when it was revealed he had been engaging in gross sexual behavior with a young female White House intern and had lied under oath about it, a crime the ancients once called perjury. (I can safely say this because the faculty at large universities, including those in the South, for the most part form the far left wing of the Democratic Party, which was most vocal element in support of Clinton during his impeachment travails.)
This brings me to my second point, that coaches are more important than U.S. presidents. A man like Mike Price can make a difference to many people by how his football team performs on Saturdays. Alabama has a long and proud record of winning college football championships, and while some may condemn the lengths some go in expressing their support, the team’s success — and failures — are deeply internalized by millions of people, including many who never even attended that university.
Having worn the "Orange Jersey" at Tennessee myself, I can say that UT’s football success matters to me, and it matters to many others from the Volunteer State. Last year’s less-than-stellar performance by the UT football team meant that autumn was a little less pleasant for many of us — and that season also included a loss to Alabama, a near-death experience for me.
On the other hand, how George Bush is doing politically means little to most individuals. You see, while Bush can make things worse for us, there is precious little he or any other president can do to make our lives better. Yes, Bush can order the U.S. Armed Forces into action and kill and maim thousands of innocents in countries far away, but he cannot do anything to bring happiness to my household the way that Philip Fulmer and his Tennessee Volunteers can do when they beat one of our dreaded rivals.
When Tennessee won the national championship in 1998, it was a very happy occasion for me. The championship was real, and it was a high point in the lives of Tennessee fans. However, when Bush pushed through a tax cut, I knew the thing was bogus from the beginning; nor did I feel any joy when his armies pushed into Baghdad.
Presidents are like tornadoes; they can do much damage, and I want them as far away from me as possible. Bush’s political fortunes are not part of my hopes and dreams. However, Bush can easily wreck all that I hold dear and not have to be accountable for anything.
In the end, Mike Price was held accountable for his actions; I have yet to see a president, other than Richard Nixon, have to face real consequences for his behavior. Yes, they can be voted out of office, but that simply means they live a retirement complete with big pensions, big money for speeches, and a gaggle of goons (Secret Service agents) to protect them from real and imagined threats. Why is that so? I believe that it is because the Mike Prices of the world truly are important and necessary people. Not so for Bush and his predecessors and successors.
May 6, 2003