To be perfectly frank, the whole business of providing State Police bodyguards to University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University football coaches always struck me as (a) slightly ludicrous and (b) a waste of manpower (I’ve never seen a female trooper on the sidelines, but then, I’m old enough that I don’t notice the cheerleaders, either).
Those of an opposing view would argue that (a) a little police presence alongside Coach (note the capitalization) before, during and after a heavily attended, high-tension public event at which passions, sometimes — reportedly — powered by alcohol, might prevent unpleasant, unsportsmanlike confrontations, by either home fans, depending on the score, or those of an opposing team, depending on the score or the officiating, or both; (b) all the other NCAA Division I coaches get such an escort; and (c) it’s Arkansas law.
To which I would counterpoint: (a) the University, and all other state-supported campuses I’m aware of, has its own sworn, commissioned, uniformed police force, seemingly the most appropriate agency to provide any such needed protection — which ought not be necessary inasmuch as Coach (note the capitalization) commands his own battalion of some four dozen or more praetorians, all of them surely heavier yet younger and in better physical condition than any federal, state or local officer, and all of them in uniform, none of them carrying sidearms but all of them girded in helmets and padding and cleated shoes sufficient to withstand impact quite beyond the capacities of an uppercut delivered by Ali in his prime; (b) so what?; and (c) the legislature has often made, indeed continues to make, bad law.
I can’t remember when troopers began trotting onto the field alongside Coach at game’s end, but it’s been some time now; perhaps it began when the Hogs were having such mediocre seasons the real threat was from the fans. Only when the unpleasantness involving former UA Coach Bobby Petrino’s “improper relationship” with a comely athletic department assistant came to light earlier this year did I, perhaps again behind the curve, learn that the relationship between Coach(es) and his (their) primary security officer (usually, we now know, the regional ASP commander) was, in its own way, inappropriate.
So close were Petrino and Capt. Lance King that it seemed only natural to the former that he keep the latter’s number on his cell phone speed dial, and just as natural to use it to summon assistance from the area’s senior ASP officer in the moments after Coach and the improper relationship on the rear of his motorcycle spilled from an Ozark mountain highway. The scandal cost Petrino his job; subsequently, King, an officer of unblemished reputation, reported some $3,000 in gifts (game tickets, clothing) from Petrino and others of the UA athletic department to his superiors and to the state Ethics Commission, receiving the gentlest of reproofs from both, there being no ASP prohibition against such gratuities specific to athletic teams.
There is now: The agency has revised its regulations to ban such emoluments, brining it into line with Ethics Commission standards. The new protocol also bars (absent “exigent circumstances”) troop commanders from out-of-state team (Coach) security duty and, absent a threat-specific situation, prohibits chauffeuring athletic personnel or players. There remains the 1973 state statute that provides the State Police provide security “commensurate with available personnel and resources…which are not required for other activities” to what the law describes as “statewide athletic events.” I have not polled the General Assembly, which is always sometimes with holding the line on state spending, but I sense no craving to repeal the law.
We could leave the subject there were it not for a second, more recent intersection of Coach and the ASP. In this instance a trooper in White County stopped a pair of cars for speeding and, having relieved one driver, a newly recruited if celebrated Red Wolf running back, of a small quantity of marijuana and a pistol, discarded the dope but kept the gun. Not good.
The officer also turned off his patrol car’s audio-video device (another violation of policy) but not before it recorded him wondering aloud if he ought to talk to “Coach” about the situation, which he hoped to avoid “because of the NCAA crap.” He let the two drivers go with speeding tickets.
ASU’s Coach let the running back go, period.
Petrino, his inappropriate relationship, King, the White County trooper, the ASU athlete, the ASP — the bruises each have endured are the collateral damage of a culture that celebrates Coach and The Program. That culture demonstrated, at Penn State, that it is capable of producing more, much more, than bruises.
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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week which airs on AETN.