Yesterday afternoon, the following video went viral thanks to an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report. The video depicts the Rutgers head basketball coach, Mike Rice abusing his players in practice after practice over a span of three years. In this case, the word “abuse” is not hyperbole nor misplaced. As you watch the video, you will see Rice screaming profanities and homophobic slurs, and physically shoving, kicking, and chucking basketballs at players’ heads from point-blank range.
This shocked nearly everyone who saw it. Even those who have been around the game and have seen other forms of coaching abuse (sometimes re-packaged as “intensity”) were noticeably disturbed and appalled. Bob Knight has been repeatedly brought into the conversation, but even his behavior didn’t approach this level of abuse.
This goes well beyond any reasonable level of decorum, even by standards of a coach with a lot of “intensity”. What this video really does is beg three additional questions:
Why was Rice allowed to stick around so long?
In December, Rice was suspended for a few games and fined $50,000. Why? Because the athletic department and the athletic director, Tim Pernetti, were aware of this behavior. They were aware of this behavior (they had seen the tapes) and all they did was give Rice a little slap on the wrist!?
They claimed that this was a “first time offense” and so they wanted to give Rice the benefit of the doubt and a second chance for “rehabilitation”. How could this footage, which spans a three year period while showing multiple forms of verbal and physical abuse, constitute a “first time offense”?
Even if Rice had been highly successful or Rutgers was in the midst of a fairy tale run to the NCAA Tournament, he should have been fired immediately. But he wasn’t and they weren’t. Rice didn’t have a single season with an above .500 record at Rutgers. So it’s not like the athletic department was dealing with a big-name figure, a future hall of fame coach, or even a coach whose “controversial methods” were extremely successful. This situation fails on all fronts. Anyone who watched any part of this montage over such a long span of time knows that his termination was a no-brainer.
What would have happened if “Outside the Lines” hadn’t covered this?
The way in which this was handled makes the entire situation seem like it was a response to the outrage that came about from this report. Rutgers had already “disciplined” Rice earlier this year. Again, they were aware of the situation. And they were aware of the amount of time that this behavior spanned.
It seems an awful lot like they are reacting to this report and the viral video. They already had this information and went with a slap on the wrist punishment in December. It’s only after it was made public – not because of new information – that the athletic department really moved on this. And even then, it was a little bit slow. They “considered” firing him, then they had a “meeting” with him, and then fired him.
What should happen with Rutgers’ athletic department and Director Tim Pernetti?
Okay, so Rice is gone. That has now (finally) been taken care of by the athletic department. But the question moving forward should really be about the the athletic department and the leadership of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.
They allowed this type of abuse to student-athletes to take place over a period of three years. And they had indisputable video evidence! The language and slurs were more than enough of a fireable offense to let Rice go. The physical abuse was certainly more than enough to fire him. And when you put them together in the whole package, you’ve got an example of one of the most extremely abusive coaches you could imagine. And it was on tape.
And when they saw this tape, the athletic department officials decided that the appropriate course of action was a minimum suspension and relatively small fine. And they were somehow able to redefine the repeated actions of this coach as a “first time offense”. This is absolutely incredible to me, and I hope to many others. The department seems extremely misguided and lacking in any level of common sense if they were able to treat one of the easiest, clearest, most blatant patterns of coaching abuse as if it were some difficult or complex issue that required any deliberation.
They finally got it right, but not on their own. It should be interesting to see how the department responds to this issue. I hope that they learn from this and take some pro-active steps to help prevent future incidents from occurring.
This should also hopefully serve as a warning to other athletic departments around the country. I’m certain that this is one of, if not the, worst cases of current coaching abuse and department ineptitude in not doing the right thing in a timely manner, but I also know that there are many departments that are not nearly as clean as they should be. We need to step it up and hold individuals and organizations accountable at every level.
Rice is set to receive a $100K bonus from Rutgers for finishing out the season. This would be on top of the $600K+ salary that he made this past year. It is not clear yet if he will be paid this bonus or there are any other contractual buyouts that Rutgers may have to pay him, but it is not unusual for coaches to receive these types of “golden parachutes” even as they are run out of town for very legitimate reasons.