There's probably some janitor walking around who knew what was going on too. Personally, I think they all deserve public hangings. (sarcasm)
Ex-Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice did some very bad things. He shoved his players during practice. He was verbally abusive towards them, even using homophobic slurs (not that he’s the first coach to do that). Worse, he actually threw basketballs at them.
Mike Rice deserved to be fired. End of story.
But it’s not the end of the story. Rice is being obliterated in the national media. ESPN’s numerous talking heads have jumped in to trash Rice. Except for Bobby Knight, of course, who was conspicuously absent from the network’s pound-it-into-the-ground coverage on its 6pm ET “SportsCenter” broadcast yesterday.
You remember Knight. He was the guy who threw chairs, verbally abused players, and finally lost his job at Indiana after he laid hands upon one of his Hoosier players and — like Rice — was caught doing so on videotape. He’s also the guy who now serves as a top basketball analyst for ESPN and who fellow analyst Dick Vitale raves about.
Vitale got in on the Rice story yesterday via Twitter:
Coaching suicide, eh? Must depend on how many games a guy’s won. Knight lasted a long time before a video clip brought him down. It can be argued that Rice’s taped incidents were worse than the biggie caught on tape involving Knight, but at that point we’re just splitting hairs.
Knight was a bully to his players. Rice was a bully to his players. Not all of their players hated them. Some came to Knight’s defense. Some have come to Rice’s. It’s not unlike the Marine who hates his drill sergeant only to later say he appreciates him for “making a man out of him,” or some other such macho thing. (Perhaps there’s a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome mixed in there, too.)
In Knight’s case, he had hundreds of wins and three national championships on his resume. Rice had only been a head coach for six years. He took Robert Morris to a pair of NCAA Tournaments, but in three years at Rutgers he was a disappointing 44-51 overall. Winning masks a lot of ills. Losing magnifies them.
Knight also coached — mainly — in an age before Twitter and wall-to-wall sports coverage across television networks and the internet. Rice screwed up and got caught in the age of social media. Once ESPN aired video of him flinging balls at this players’ noggins, he was doomed.
But just as predictable as the piling on session we’re now witnessing, and just as predictable as the losing coach being an easier fire than a winning one… we now have people fanning out to call for more punishment.
Hey, Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti knew about Rice’s deeds in December, but he actually gave his coach a second chance. Why that evil bastard.
Pernetti didn’t just tsk-tsk his coach when he was shown the basketball-toss video, mind you. He fined him $50,000, suspended him for three games, and forced him to attend anger management classes. In reality, that’s not exactly looking the other way. That’s a punishment and a path to redemption. That’s a second chance.
Oh, but here in full-on, bloodlust, lynch mob mode, Pernetti might as well have given Rice a raise.
ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption” broadcast opened yesterday with this question at the bottom of the screen: “Is Firing Coach Enough?”
“Now that Rice has been fired, the real question isn’t whether or not the coach should have a job (he obviously shouldn’t) but how closely Rutgers will review the actions of other leaders after Rice’s slap on the wrist last year. After all, there are a number of ways Pernetti’s decision put the university’s reputation, not to mention its students, in harm’s way.”
Don’t know about you, but I’d think a three-game suspension and a $50,000 dock in pay were more than a “slap on the wrist.” McGregor goes on to so state that career rehabilitation might have been appropriate if the coach had “only thrown a ball once, or had made a couple of angry comments to another employee of equal stature.” Ah, so Rice broke the old “you can throw one, but not two balls” rule.
McGregor isn’t alone in calling for more blood. Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel compares the Rutgers scandal to the scandal at Penn State. Lawmakers are calling for investigations. Heads are being demanded on social media platforms.
And just how horrible was Rutgers’ “cover-up?” Bianchi quotes an image consultant named Ed Berliner from the website TheUndefeatedImage.com:
“When you boil it down, this is exactly the same story as Penn State and so many other programs. They all think they can get away with it and cover it up and that nobody will notice. That’s crazy in today’s world. If they would just do what needs to be done from the outset, they’d be much better off.”
I’m sorry, Berliner lost me at “this is exactly the same story as Penn State.” Yes, tossing balls and shouting homophobic slurs at young adults is roughly equal to multiple counts of child rape.
Look, I’m not defending Rice. Again, read the fifth sentence above. No one can argue that he didn’t deserve firing. But I also think someone can defend Rutgers’ brass on this one. Or at least not lump them in with the folks at Penn State who actually faced jail time for their deeds — or non-deeds.
Pernetti punished his coach and gave him a path to redemption. His coach was an oaf, but he wasn’t a rapist or a murderer. I’m amazed that no one else seems to see it that way. There’s bad and there’s worse. Bullying athletes is bad, child molestation is worse.
But, hell, I’m tired of being on the wrong side of these things. Last summer I argued that the NCAA had no business — literally none according to its bylaws — to hand down unprecedented sanctions against a Penn State program where everyone involved in the actual scandal had already died or been brought up on criminal charges. The only thing Mark Emmert did was give America a bit more blood with which to intoxicate itself.
There weren’t many who agreed with my take that PSU had been punished enough. To some, there’s never enough punishment.
So knowing that, I’ll just join the anti-Rutgers mob now before it’s too late. I want the athletic director at Rutgers gone. How dare Pernetti try to help a man change his life — via anger management courses — and save his job. Fire Pernetti.
I also want the president at Rutgers fired. The AD says he told his boss, Robert Barchi, about the situation. Barchi didn’t demand Rice be fired and he didn’t fire Pernetti for not firing Rice. So shouldn’t Barchi be gone, too? Of course he should. Fire him.
And what of the board of trustees who put such miscreants in charge of the state university of New Jersey and its athletic programs? The board should be sacked as well.
What of the many managers and assistant coaches who worked for Rice and failed to rat him out? Are they not guilty of looking the other way? Did they do all that they could have done? Hey, people wanted Mike McQueary drawn and quartered for failing to go over his boss’ head at Penn State. Should the managers, assistants, trainers, and any other Rutgers support personnel who knew what Rice was doing but didn’t act to protect the chil, er, young adults be treated any differently?
For that matter, what about the Rutgers student body? A number of students must have been told by the Rutgers players about their coach’s behavior? Toss them out of school. And the dorms and classroooms where they all sat zip-lipped while their fellow students were cursed and shoved? Raze the Rutgers campus. Hell, we should have done that to Penn State’s campus, too.
You know what? It’s never too late. I say we demolish both sites.
After all, since we “don’t have universities policing themselves” and “we have the media doing it for them,” isn’t it my duty as a media member to demand more punishment, more firings, more blood, more bodies on spits?
Man, this bloodlust thing is pretty easy.
Oh, I know some of you out there won’t like me taking things to such hyperbolic ends. Some will say that I’m defending Rice, which — for the third time now — I’m not. Many of you are already outraged right along with McGregor, Bianchi, and the image consultant he quoted.
But I bet every single one of you who agrees with those calling for more punishment would sing a wholly different tune if the school in question was the one you pulled for instead of Rutgers.
To me, that might be even sadder than the horde of judgmental people currently clamoring for more heads to roll.
UPDATE – And here we go. A group of 13 Rutgers faculty members are demanding the resignation of school president Robert Barchi. By this time next week, people will indeed be calling for the school to be burned to the ground.
UPDATE II – More calls for the scalps of both the athletic director and the university president. The court of public opinion has sealed their fates. They are both doomed. (When a player beats a fellow student unconscious and admits it to police, there’s a call for due process. But when someone doesn’t fire a coach who bullies his team, there’s a swift — as in less than a week — call for multiple dismissals of leaders and administrators. And here I’d think the actual beating of another human being would be the worse crime.)