Steve Sarkisian Makes It to the Dance

Steve SarkisianIt is terribly easy for us to get angry at Steve Sarkisian. We have talked about him before. When USC terminated their former head coach for being a drunk, they must have thought he would slink off into the night or possibly to the corner bar. In an article for ESPN (December 8, 2015) entitled: “Steve Sarkisian files wrongful-termination lawsuit against USC,” we learn that Sarkisian did not slink off, but lawyered up:

“Steve Sarkisian filed suit against the university Monday, saying the school ‘kicked him to the curb’ and wrongfully terminated him in October…His complaint asks for at least $12.6 million in damages, but Sarkisian’s attorney told TMZ.com he will seek more than $30 million. In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, Sarkisian alleges the university fired him without accommodating his efforts to seek treatment for his ‘disability.’”

The university vigorously denies it “kicked him to the curb.” In a statement USC general counsel stated:

“’Much of what is stated in the lawsuit filed today by Steve Sarkisian is patently untrue,’ the statement read. ‘The record will show that Mr. Sarkisian repeatedly denied to university officials that he had a problem with alcohol, never asked for time off to get help and resisted university efforts to provide him with help. The university made clear in writing that further incidents would result in termination, as it did.’”

OK, there you have it

So on one side we have Steve and his legal machine telling the media that he was unceremoniously dumped and denied the opportunity to coach and on the other side, we have the collective might of the university telling us that Steve is full of concession quality Bratwurst and Nachos. If we come across as being too flippant over this “serious” matter, it is far more benign than many of the comments we’ve privately heard ranging from, “Steve needs to man the hell up,” to “What did he do? Have a couple of drinks?”

We must first come to an understanding. Alcoholism is a disease. It has affected my family and it has probably affected yours. Sarkisian has admitted he is an alcoholic, not an occasional alcohol abuser. When he got canned, he was on his way to rehab. He was about to start a journey because he had run out of options. We can’t get inside his head, but we are pretty certain he was humiliated and shamed.

If we take the money part out of it, the $12.6 million or the outrageous $30 million, Steve is not much different than your fall-down, black-out co-worker who routinely misses work and is the life of the party.

Most HR departments have a problem with drunks, let alone a major D-1 school. The question is whether USC did enough. Steve says they didn’t. The university says it did. My guess is that Steve will settle for something and then it will be put to bed.

Steve made bad choices and it led to bad consequences. It always does. He will collect his settlement and then to most other prospective D-1 programs he will turn into poison. Bad choices lead there too. As for the university, they will lose a few million, revise a few policies and be on their way. It might play out this way because the university and many others like it – and in fact the professional ranks above them, all too well understand “The Dance.”

Pick your partner

We talk of mega contracts universities enjoy with apparel companies, but they are small potatoes compared to the granddaddy of all sponsors: alcohol. Alcohol brings in big bucks.

It is the Dance of Alcohol and Athletics and the culture the two have enjoyed for decade upon decade. One is ingrained in the other. Alcohol is often the currency and it is the downfall; it is the revenues and occasionally, the consequences (like when a drunk fan kills someone on the way home from a game).

Are we ethically opposed to alcohol running in rivers through campuses? No, we are not. Are we ethically opposed to the hypocrisy surrounding alcohol? You had better believe it.

There exists a certain percentage of fans, boosters, alumni, coaches, athletic directors and sports association executives who embrace and enable guys like Steve Sarkisian, because they are no different – and none of them want alcoholism treatment until it’s too late, and none think they have a problem until it’s too late.

At the banquets and social events, in the high-end clubs and beer gardens of D-1 stadiums or in the cheap seats with the expensive beer, alcohol is often the currency of business and networking.

Maybe Sarkisian needed to address his alcoholism many years before his firing, but it’s a guarantee that few, if any, withheld alcohol from him at officially-sanctioned events. He was, at one time, a good old boy enjoying whiskey and beer with other good old boys. And no one thought twice about it.

Steve made it to the dance as Homecoming King. Now he will pay the consequences even though he will get a pay-out. It will cost the university a few bucks, but the band will play on. We’re willing to have a drink on it.

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