Utah football has a problem and has extended it, draping that problem across its shoulders with its retaining of Morgan Scalley.
Maybe you love the Utes defensive coordinator. A lot of people do. He’s a nice, capable, passionate man. Maybe you think he deserves another chance, that darn near everybody deserves that. Maybe you hate what he did in a moment of stupidity, but appreciate overall the coaching job he’s done at Utah.
Still, no matter what, the scarlet letter carved into his reputation and covered by nearly every local and national sports outlet, will be tough to spackle over moving forward.
Scalley is indeed sorry for his use of a racist slur seven years ago, one that came to light recently. That much was clear in a news conference on Wednesday during which he expressed that regret upon the announcement that his job had been saved. Given the way he apologized, it seemed genuine, beyond merely being sorry for getting caught, for being outed, for having his salary sliced in half, from $1.1 million to $525,000, for having his head-coach-in-waiting status stripped away.
He sure sounded like a man who was truly troubled by having been forced to turn into the cold wind of learning from his own foolishness, his own cluelessness, his own ignorance, his own naivety, his own, as he said it, “insensitivity.”
He repeatedly said he was remorseful and embarrassed.
“I’m extremely sorry,” he said, tearfully. He apologized to his players, to his colleagues, to his bosses, to his program, to his university, to fans, and he asked for the opportunity to gain back their trust.
But there’s a lingering difficulty with that.
Forgiveness from those he apologized to on this issue does not matter as much as it ordinarily might. Forgiveness is usually a good thing, but it’s not how society is dealing with this particular matter in this particular day and age. There’s been too much damage done with the language Scalley chose to use, language that has run rampant for hundreds of years, causing and representing too much pain.
And that language — the N-word — regardless of how sorry Scalley is for having used it, is attached to him — it’s not going away and maybe never will — and now he’s still attached to Utah football.
This means going forward that Scalley will have to explain himself over and over again — when he deals with players, when he gets mad at players, when he attempts to lure recruits. And don’t think competing Pac-12 recruiters won’t use it against him — against Utah.
Already, the Utes have to dismiss what Whittingham referred to on Wednesday as “myths” about the university, the place, when recruits consider playing in and for Utah. “Recruiting is always a challenge,” he said.
Now, it’s a greater one.
Scalley said, “I don’t try to hide from the truth.”
Well. The truth is that white guys don’t use the N-word. They can’t — under any circumstance. That’s a word that straight does not belong to them. It doesn’t matter that it was seven years ago. It was unacceptable then, it’s unacceptable now.
It should never be acceptable.
Scalley was late in becoming fully aware.
It’s a lesson with powerful hands of stone, landing blows that did not knock him out, but that might have and it can be argued should have. Everybody can make that judgment for themselves, one way or the other, just as Utah recruits will do in the seasons to come. Some will say he should be gone. Others will think the decision to keep him while chopping his legs out from under him is downright Solomonic.
It’s a classic example of the battle between mercy and justice, spiced as it is in this case not by racial undertones, rather by racial screams and shouts.
Utah AD Mark Harlan, who said he was angered when he first found out about the allegation and Scalley’s confession, went on to say he and Whittingham took the matter, along with the results of an investigation, into consideration with grave seriousness, as they should have.
Their final decision will sound like more of the same old same old to cynics and critics, people who have heard a thousand apologies for “insensitivities” before, and the subsequent pardons handed down for and by white men.
Whittingham himself said: “I’m elated that Coach Scalley is back with us.”
Scalley, who’s making no excuses, is elated, too.
“I accept the consequences,” he said, adding that he wants to do and be better. “It’s my job to repair any damage that’s been done.”
That last part will be the toughest of all.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.