Rick Pitino, the head basketball coach for the Louisville Cardinals, is in the news today. It seems that six years ago, he had sex with a woman in a restaurant after hours. Since then, she’s apparently been trying to extort money from him, since he is a good Catholic — and more importantly — because he has a morality clause in his contract with the university. The police and FBI have been quietly investigating since the incident was first reported, and now they’ve charged the woman with various crimes including extortion and lying to the FBI. The good news, then, is that the woman will probably get what’s coming to her. The bad news is that Pitino is going to go through a lot of hell over this.
This isn’t the kind of news I would normally write about, but various aspects of it caught my attention. In reading the story, it’s pretty clear that Pitino committed no crime. A woman seduced him, and he had sex with her. He’s probably done that before. He’s very rich, has very high social status, is intelligent, and by all appearances, has many of the qualities women instinctively desire in a man. He gets selected by women a lot, I’m sure.
Pitino’s wife did very well. She probably married about as well as she could have hoped in terms of resources, social standing, ambition, dependability, stability, and intelligence. (If you’re not familiar with Pitino’s career, there’s a reason he makes millions of dollars. He’s very, very good at what he does.) I can’t say much about Pitino’s wife because I don’t really know anything about her, but I do know they’ve been married since 1976. She’s close to his age.
That’s Karen Sypher, the woman who pulled this little stunt. (She appears significantly younger than Pitino. That’s what we would predict, right?) You have to give her a certain amount of credit. She’s married to the basketball team’s equipment coach. That’s a pretty good job, but it doesn’t pay as well as head coach. Nobody had ever heard of Tim Sypher before this story hit the news. He’s a middle man. Still, he’s a middle man in a powerful social network. In fact, his social status is what gave Karen the opportunity to meet and seduce Coach Pitino. Women dig social status.
We can only guess at what happened between Karen and Tim, but I think we can make a pretty good educated guess based on what we know of human nature. Tim probably didn’t know about Karen’s tryst until after the fact. In evolutionary terms, she was “trading up.” There’s another interesting element. She claims she got pregnant from the encounter. That shouldn’t surprise us much, either, since women tend to have sex outside of their marriage when they’re ovulating. If true, it would mean that whether she meant to or not, she decided to go through with her little scheme right when her evolutionary programming told her it was a good idea.
Tim didn’t have much to gain from the whole thing. The risk of losing his job and being blackballed from the college basketball social network is very high, and he makes decent money already. As we would predict based on his social status, he has a woman who fits most of the profile of what men desire in women. I would guess, then, that Karen cooked this up on her own, and very possibly didn’t have Tim’s best interest at heart. The report states that Tim delivered a list of demands to Pitino, so clearly he was involved in some way, but it’s telling that the FBI have not charged him at all. That seems to indicate that he was an after-the-fact pawn, not a planner.
Granted, I’m just speculating here, and we can’t know for certain what’s going on. But I think it’s probably pretty close to the truth. There’s still something itching at the back of my brain, though. Pitino could get fired for this. He has a “morality clause” in his contract. Louisville University doesn’t want its coaches having affairs or besmirching the school’s reputation by causing a scandal. They’re so concerned that they make their coaches sign legal documents pledging their morality on and off the job. Technically speaking, they could probably have fired him for the sex alone.
What is it, exactly, that his affair has done to the university? Do we suppose the basketball team won’t be able to play as well because the coach dipped his wick in another candle shop? Will his players suddenly stop obeying him at practice? No… it’s something else. Some people might not want their kids to be coached by a moral deviant. Others might pull their generous funding for the athletic department because they don’t like sending that kind of message to impressionable college students.
It’s an odd double standard, isn’t it? Let’s be honest. We all know that powerful men fuck attractive younger women. Any woman who marries a powerful man is kidding herself if she thinks she’s getting 100% of his sexual attention. We realize deep down that powerful men get to be polygamous. Our particular society tinkers with the gears a bit, though. We legally enforce monogamy on married couples, and back it up by slapping two timing husbands with very, very large divorce settlements. We act very upset when we learn that Magic Johnson slept with thousands of women, or that Kobe Bryant has a thing for hotel employees. When our president gets a blow job from an admiring intern, we try to get him fired.
Doesn’t this strike you as a little odd? I mean… we tried to fire the President of the United States for getting a blow job, and one of the best basketball coaches in the country could get fired for schtooping some conniving hussy.
Colleges are for teaching science and the arts, right? They’re also for training young athletes for careers in professional sports. And Louisville has one of the best coaches in the business. Why would anybody care at all about his personal life? Apart from causing marital strife, why should Karen Sypher have had anything to gain by threatening to tell the press about that time Pitino and she touched genitals?
I believe that this double standard is the result of our own evolutionary double standards. Both men and women have good reasons for enforcing monogamy on their partners, but they also both have good reasons for breaking their pledges of monogamy on the sly. For a man, the only way to ensure paternity is to enforce monogamy on his mate. For a woman, the only way to guarantee full access to her mate’s resources, time, and childrearing assistance is to enforce monogamy. But as we’ve seen, women also stand to benefit from trading up genetically while keeping a loyal husband. Men obviously stand to benefit by impregnating as many women as possible.
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but human mating is about enforcing double standards. The man who wins biggest in the genetic lottery is the one who enforces monogamy on as many women as possible. He gets to be polygamous, but they don’t. The woman who wins biggest is the one who snags a very faithful man while becoming impregnated by the man with the best genes, regardless of his interest in having a relationship with her.
It’s tempting to object at this point. This isn’t just about genes. It’s not just about sex or reproduction. It’s about hurt feelings and ruining marriages and causing broken homes and letting fans down. It’s about all kinds of complex human emotions. It’s simplistic to suggest that this is all about instincts and genetic programming.
But that’s the whole point. By pointing to the complex issues encapsulated by this kind of story, we’re pointing straight towards human mating strategies. If it wasn’t for our particular mating strategies, we wouldn’t have the social stigma on marital infidelity. We wouldn’t have morality clauses in contracts, or extortion, or lost faith in our parents. This is precisely about reproduction because each of us is the product of all the successful reproductive strategies used by all of our ancestors. It was these strategies that literally formed the human psyche and gave us the ability to have the complex emotions we have.
When two people stay monogamous with each other, it’s the result of competing evolutionary strategies that have achieved a kind of stalemate for the time being. When we get upset about someone else’s infidelity, it’s because we are looking into our own genes and seeing the possibility that our mate could do the same thing to us. Deep down, we know the truth, and it’s very, very uncomfortable.