Petrino, Luther Wright and morals clauses

Bobby Petrino, AP photo

When I see that Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was fired this week for violating the “morals clause” in his contract, it reminds me of Luther Wright.

Wright was the former Jazz player who ended up in the Tooele County jail after a night of weirdness that included his arrest at a rest stop off I-80. The incident was tied to a reported overdose of prescription medications that caused him to flip out. Some stories said marijuana was also involved. Wright has since written a book detailing his struggles with being bipolar and having drug problems.

At the time, I remember late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller saying he might invoke a morals clause in Wright’s contract.

But that never happened and Wright made several million dollars, despite playing just 92 minutes in his NBA career. As I recall, the Jazz were unable to find out exactly what occurred to Wright, due to medical privacy laws and a protective agent, so the team ended up fulfilling the contract terms.

Speaking of morals clauses, I’ve heard stories of coaches in Utah who had extramarital affairs while in their high profile positions. But nothing was proven, and in some cases no such clauses existed in their contracts. Thus no stories were written. In Petrino’s case, it apparently wasn’t just the fact he had a female friend; it was that he hired her under questionable circumstances and lied to his A.D.

The problem for coaches and athletes who do dumb things these days is that cover-ups are virtually impossible. As recently as the 1990s, many stories weren’t reported. In some cases, it’s because such behavior wasn’t necessarily grounds for firing, since there were no morals clauses. Also, in some cases the rumors were unprovable. Nowadays, most contracts have a morals clause, and the evidence is usually on camera. So it’s a different, more public story.

Usually it’s a sad one, at that.

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