Imagine the coach of a college debate team being so upset with a student’s performance that he throws a stapler, a book, and a trash basket at the debater’s head. He also verbally berates the student with gay slurs and insults. And it’s not just one student — he does it regularly, as well as physically accosting them. He defends his actions as “motivating” the students to do a better job.
How long do you think he’d keep his job as debate coach? Then why did it take Rutgers all this time to fire head basketball coach Mike Rice, who did all of the above — except with basketballs instead of school supplies?
Thirteen years ago, when Bobby Knight was fired by Indiana University for choking a player, I asked my radio listeners whether they’d want their child to be coached by a man like that. To my shock, most callers said that, as long as he ran a winning program, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Rutgers wasn’t exactly a Final Four contender, but I’ll bet that the parents of some of Rice’s players would give you the same answer.
If it were my kid, the first time she came home and told me about any kind of abuse — and that’s what this was, a criminal assault on another person — that would either be her last day on the team or the beginning of the end of that coach’s affiliation with her team.
In a statement today, Rutgers said, “Based upon recently revealed information and a review of previously discovered issues, Rutgers has terminated the contract of Mike Rice.”
Recently revealed? That makes it sound like Rutgers’ officials only saw the video of Rice’s abuse in the last 48 hours. In truth, the school — or, at least, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti — was given that video several months ago. All he got was a 3-game suspension and a fine. The reason Rutgers tossed Rice out today is because the video went public via ESPN (who got it from a former Rutgers employee named Eric Murdock, the only adult who acted responsibly in this sordid affair).
If Pernetti knew about Rice’s abuse even earlier than late last year — and the video shows him lashing out at players this way since 2010 — then he’s no better than Joe Paterno was at Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky affair. The Rutgers story doesn’t involve sexual abuse, but it was abuse, and for an authority figure to turn his head and ignore it, believing it to be good coaching, is reason enough to fire Pernetti.
When I brought this up on the air today, I heard a different tone from callers than those in 2000. Now, they view Rice’s “coaching” techniques as wrong and would not want their son (or daughter) exposed to it, regardless of the team’s win/loss record. But I also heard from some who say this culture begins much earlier, even at the Little League level, when adults overstep the bounds of their authority.
One last thing to imagine. Take this out of the sports arena and put it in your place of work. Would any human resources department permit a boss to treat his employees this way? Not for a second.