Coach fired for abusive acts

In the post-Jerry Sandusky era of college athletics, it is hard to believe that any university would take its chances by deciding to keep a coach who had previously been fined $50,000, suspended for three games, and sent to anger management classes for inappropriate language and behavior.

Graphic by Lauren Lukacsko/Old Gold & Black

Graphic by Lauren Lukacsko/Old Gold & Black

Rutgers University, however, after failing to heed these warning signs, suffered massive public humiliation when ESPN aired a video of head basketball coach Mike Rice physically and verbally abusing his players, the very same video that earned him said fine and suspension in December 2012.

The video, a compilation of footage from multiple practice sessions between 2010 and 2012, showed Rice kicking and shoving his players and hurling basketballs at their heads, all while blasting them with homophobic and racial slurs.

Fellow coaches and current and former players have come to Rice’s defense, expressing their shock at his behavior in the video. Frank Mitchell, who played for Rice at Rutgers, claimed in an interview with CNN that the ball-throwing, name-calling, etc. “only occurred from time to time, it wasn’t an everyday type thing.  Obviously, the video shows it happened, but they were isolated incidents. They weren’t back to back.”

The fact is, however, that whether these incidents were isolated or regular occurrences, this type of behavior is inexcusable for any human being, much less a representative of a major university. After firing Rice under pressure from state officials, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti publicly admitted his flawed judgment in allowing Rice to stay after the December incident. But given the circumstances, one cannot help but wonder if Rice might still have his job if the video had not gained so much media attention.

The Scarlet Knights’ Big East record under Rice was far from stellar (16-38 with no postseason tournament appearances over three seasons), so if Pernetti was looking for any other reason to justify firing Rice, his atrocious behavior would have been the perfect excuse.  Pernetti, however, seemed intent on keeping Rice, for reasons that are still quite ambiguous, especially considering Pernetti’s media background, which should have prepared him to handle an event like this.  Despite Rice’s firing and Pernetti’s resignation, however, the incident has not by any means blown over. A frankly shocking debate still continues about where to draw the line between tough love coaching and flat-out mistreatment.

It is disheartening that this is not immediately evident to some people, but there should be no question that  this is simply unacceptable.

This type of thinking is not “soft.”  Hardly anyone thought Penn State was being “soft” by denouncing Sandusky in 2012 after he was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period.  The frequency and duration of Sandusky’s behavior does not make it any worse than Rice’s — both are examples of an adult using dynamic power to excessively shame and disrespect students, and both are equally deplorable.

A coach who at any time berates his players no more fit to represent a self-respecting university than is one who sexually assaults children.  Apparently, Rutgers has learned nothing from the Penn State incident other than how to botch its own cover-up.

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