The weeks leading to preseason camp were probably as agonizing and challenging as University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque has faced.
He’s had to reassemble elements in one aspect of his life and try to pick up the pieces in another.
He’s been preparing to guide a young team into its first season of full eligibility in NCAA Divisiion I Football Championship Subdivision. In the process, he’s had to deal with some delicate and devastating family issues — after his admission to an inappropriate relationship in the past.
He’s admitted wrongdoing, apologized publicly and he’s received a vote of confidence from the UCA administration. He intends to emerge from the muck at full speed into football season preparation that begins when his players officially report today.
My theory of relativity concerning fallen public figures is people want to know the details and have sympathy in direct proportion to how much they like and/or admire the individual. Those who like the tarnished person don’t want any details. Those who don’t want to see every speck of dirt. One’s capacity to forgive is many times proportionate to the sense of “like” according to cultural and environmental biases we all have.
For athletic figures, it’s also proportionate to how much they succeed.
While it’s premature to consider the cloud has completely disappeared, Conque has a chance to emerge from this a stronger, wiser and a better coach because of the teaching opportunities to his players and fellow coaches.
They begin from a concept of grace rather than condemnation or judgment. Sometimes the best and deepest relationships are restored relationships. It hurts to have warts, wounds and scars revealed, but that is sometimes consequential to public figures who make errors in judgment — particularly those who are placed on various kinds of pedestals related to their success. That there is cause-and-effect to missteps, and sometimes deeply painful consequences, is another lesson that many of us learn the hard way. The glare of the spotlight that can also magnify blemishes goes with the territory of any person that achieves athletic and entertainment glory. This is another lesson about the tightrope a public figure has to walk.
Most of us don’t have the public status or celebrity status in which transgressions have to be followed by a highly public admission or apology. That leads to another lesson on the fluctuating process of restoring relationships. I think people generally have a forgiving nature if they see transformation. The time that takes varies by the relationship — and the “like and respect” factor at the beginning of the process. But I think most people are forgiving if the person moves forward and learns the lesson. For some, it will take time for most tarnish to be removed from the image. Another lesson is complexities and challenges of applying grace and receiving grace. For others, the situation will stop at applying judgment and sniffing through the dirt — and the relationship may never be the same.
Winning will cure some surface blemishes.
But wins and losses soon fade by the season and praise and criticism from the media fluctuate by the day. Another teaching moment comes from the realization that the important relationships are rooted in family and community.
I’ve watched the Conque family from near and afar in good times and bad times. It is good family. I’ve seen the hugs and kisses and tears after wins and losses. It has been a close family, a loving family — and a highly emotional family.
The apostle Paul teaches us in the Bible that, among other things, love is enduring, patient, does not keep a record of wrongs and is longsuffering. Learning what real love is (and is not) creates another teaching moment.
This is also a chance for Conque, and his family, to teach to all they encounter that mistakes can be overcome, wounds can be healed, images cleansed and relationships restored.
That is done at the core in family and community. Conque made an appearance recently at UCA’s celebration of official Division I status Thursday. He received many hugs — the firm wraps he would any linebacker, he received. Little was said. Words were not needed.
Another teaching moment could originate from example. Wonder if Conque has considered or has already imposed a voluntary punishment or sanction on himself — extra running, modified to age, or even a suspension — consistent to what he would impose on a player who violated a comparable team standard? It’s a chance to send a clear message that no one is above the institution or the program.
Most of all, this is a teaching moment for perseverance and constantly renewed devotion and dedication. Conque is such a fierce competitor by nature and in his 10-plus years as coach, has continually evaluating everything that could make his program better. I don’t have any doubt he will do the self-examination and painstaking work to make himself a better person, a better husband, a better father, a better coach, a better representative of the university — his primary goals right now.
He’s never been one to back down from a challenge. He now has one of the biggest of his life.
I’ve often heard Conque tell players not to allow a mistake, no matter the extent of the initial damage, define them forever — that it is important to be defined not by what occurred, but what has been overcome.
As the football season begins at UCA, this is a real chance to put that advice to others into personal practice.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)