I know I’m an Arkansas guy writing yet another opinion on Bobby Petrino, our now-former Razorbacks football coach, but I hope to provide a slightly different and important angle.
Petrino was a very powerful man in Arkansas – maybe the most powerful man in our state. I promise you, I could not handle that kind of power-pressure without divine intervention. Most of you couldn’t handle it, either.
Why? Because increasing power often leads to decreasing objectivity. When a person gains power, it’s easy to become overconfident, even arrogant. But, as I think about this situation and other situations of moral and ethical collapses of powerful people … (pause) …
Joe Paterno … Tiger Woods … Rick Pitino … Sean Payton … Bill Clinton … Whitney Houston … and thousands more …
I wonder if they collapse from arrogance or if they collapse because of something else?
The sense I get about these powerful people is that there’s more pressure than any of us can possibly realize and that, to quote the cliché, it’s extremely lonely at the top. William Shakespeare said it well, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
So powerful people are very uneasy and very lonely, even though they’re constantly surrounded by fans and critics.
What does this have to do with moral and ethical collapses? Well, the point is that we love to drain our powerful leaders – wanting their thoughts, their opinions, their attention, their understanding and their time … all the time. But these leaders are like batteries – they only have so much charge before they have to escape and recharge, filling their own batteries back up so they can be drained again and again. How they recharge – or what they recharge with – can set them up for more success or for the collapse that brings them crashing down.
I believe Bobby Petrino was a lonely man who needed to escape and recharge. And his secret relationship, albeit improper, recharged him.
I don’t believe his mistakes were out of arrogance. I don’t believe he had clouded judgment; he knew it was wrong. Petrino, I believe, showed outward signs of arrogance and poor judgment because those symptoms masked an inner desperation.
Now think about Jeff Long, the University of Arkansas’ athletic director. His batteries will continue to be drained over the next weeks and months because the public, as well as the people he leads, will be in constant pursuit of his thoughts, opinions, attention, understanding and time. It will be important for him to recharge his battery in a moral and ethical manner.
My prayer for both Jeff Long and Bobby Petrino is that they will be able to live fully charged with the proper fuels, not perpetually drained in the midst of considerable pressure. This isn’t about taking a vacation. It’s about building and protecting a life that is capable of finding personal peace and joy even though that life spends most of its time in the pressure cooker. It’s about clearly defining a set of values that will guide moral and ethical decisions on things like how to “escape” or deal with pressure.
That’s important for Long, because he still has an uphill climb as he leads a large, complex and very public organization. It’s important for Petrino, because the end of his career at Arkansas isn’t the end of his life. He has to rebuild his life in light of the many relationships that have been damaged and the many people hurt by his actions – his family, his players, his staff, Arkansas fans, …
If they can live fully charged, they will both emerge as scarred, but better men.