Rick Pitino Embroiled In Extortion Case
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
College basketball fans in Kentucky are, well, they're fanatic about their players and about their coaches. A king of Kentucky basketball is Rick Pitino. He's currently the head coach at the University of Louisville. Today, people aren't talking about his coaching. They're talking about a sex scandal.
Stephanie Sanders of member station WFPL in Louisville has the story.
STEPHANIE SANDERS: In Kentucky, there's really only one person who can claim to be a basketball god, and that's Rick Pitino.
Mr. BILLY REED (Columnist, Lexington Herald-Leader): He occupies a unique place in the state's history and folklore, and there's no question that he is really the number one celebrity in the state of Kentucky.
SANDERS: That's Billy Reed who has worked as a sports columnist in Kentucky since 1972. Reed says it was Pitino who resurrected the storied University of Kentucky basketball program from a recruiting scandal and took the Wildcats to a national championship in 1996. And now, at the University of Louisville, his winning ways are continuing. Reed says he's the only coach in men's NCAA history to take teams from three different schools to the Final Four.
Mr. REED: Everybody that's ever coached at the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville knows that they are living, really, in a glass house.
SANDERS: And the spotlight on Rick Pitino's glass house became intense today. Newly released police reports show Pitino admitted to having sex in 2003 in a Louisville restaurant with a woman who is not his wife, and then paying the woman $3,000 to have an abortion. The woman, Karen Cunagin Sypher, has already been indicted for extortion for allegedly demanding $10 million from Pitino. After the indictment, she accused Pitino of raping her twice. Prosecutors declined to press charges. Pitino called a late news conference today and apologized for his indiscretion.
Mr. RICK PITINO (Head Coach, University of Louisville): When you have a problem, if you tell the truth, your problem becomes part of your past. If you lie, it becomes part of your future.
SANDERS: And now that more details have emerged, University of Louisville officials are backing their coach. Last night, university president James Ramsey released a statement saying he'd previously been told about the extortion attempts, but these latest details surprised him. Speaking this afternoon, he didn't expand on that.
Dr. JAMES RAMSEY (President, University of Louisville): I'm not going to go beyond what I said. I stand by that statement. And I'm sure we'll have more to say at some point in the future, but now is not the time.
SANDERS: Pitino's annual base salary is two and a quarter million dollars. And his contract does have a morality clause.
At the University of Louisville today, it was quiet because students are between semesters. But sophomore Roxanne Gillenwater(ph) was on campus prepping for the start of classes. She was surprised about the coach.
Ms. ROXANNE GILLENWATER: He just seemed so trustworthy and upright, and just a role model. But seeing him do this, it just kind of shocks me.
SANDERS: Gillenwater is a lifelong Louisville fan and she still supports Pitino despite his mistake. That may surprise people outside Kentucky because it's a conservative state in the Bible Belt. But people here care about basketball a lot. Of the dozen students I spoke to on campus, many were like Josh Wells(ph).
Mr. JOSH WELLS: I don't think people want him to leave because he is a great basketball coach and he has done great things for Louisville.
SANDERS: For fans like Josh Wells, this is just a distraction before basketball season begins this fall.
For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Sanders in Louisville.
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