Rutgers University Ignored Its Players’ Welfare

So Rutgers’ AD Tim Pernetti finally got rid of Mike Rice, basically after having his arm twisted. This is how these things usually go, where D1 institutions are concerned, when the choice is between “protect the shield” and “protect our players.”

I love sports, I love college sports and I love it when coaches show passion and intensity, even to the point of the rare loss of composure. But Rice threw basketballs at players’ legs and heads. He called them names. He shoved them to the ground, often from behind. He physically assaulted them face to face, snatched them up by the collars and bum-rush attacked them in ways that should get you arrested.

That, to me, is NOT a good coach, no matter how many wins he produced. It’s bullying, it’s the worst possible message for players and people, and it is NOT COACHING. It’s abuse. It’s old-school drill-sergeant methodology of the sort that’s been debunked in most areas of our civilization (though they clearly persist, and unfortunately they also transcend demographics such as ‘race’ or gender or region, though this is a matter for another editorial).

Rice’s practice behavior was not a one-time loss of temperament, either. One might legitimately say that anyone, on their worst day, could behave or speak in a way that is generally far out of character for them–this is why second chances, in life and in sports, are of paramount importance for all but the worst offenses. But three years of constantly shoving, grabbing, kicking (?!?), verbally assaulting (not just curses but almost stupefyingly vulgar name-calling, especially for a University representative speaking to its students) and throwing basketballs (not lobbing or looping them–but overhand, dodgeball-style FIRING them at knees and groins and heads–what would he have said if he’d concussed a kid with a thrown basketball in practice? Heck, maybe he did?)…this is way beyond just an over the top coach with a hard to control temper. This is bad by any standards, anywhere.

Imagine if a cop or teacher was caught kicking people, running up and shoving them to the floor or throwing large projectiles forcefully at people’s heads? Moreover, what do you think would have happened if any of Rutgers’ players had been caught on tape doing anything like that to a person who wasn’t fighting back (or even a person who was fighting back)? Heck, think of the general reaction when regular civilians are caught on tape doing these kinds of things…Rice has got to go, and I think that this kind of prolonged display of brutality makes him irredeemable as a coach. We’re not talking about a momentary outburst or any kind of misunderstanding or lapse. We’re talking about a prolonged and consistent pattern of egregious physical and verbal assault, upon people who just stood there and took it (again, this is a topic for discussion at a later point). Furthermore, the fact that Rutgers officials saw this footage and decided to go the “protect the shield” route and only suspend him three games and 50 grand, instead of getting rid of him, shows that they basically care very little about their players from a humanistic standpoint. Unfortunately, this is consistent with the behavior of D1 programs all over the country, as evidenced at worst by the Penn State example but in countless other such examples that do and don’t make the news.

The Mike Rice situation displays how far we have to go, as a civilization, with regard to how we employ and encourage certain methods of instruction. The problem doesn’t begin or end with abusive coaches; it extends to the fact that a staggering number of parents of all descriptions still adopt a “spare the rod, spoil the child” approach. The fact that a staggering number of public schools still employ various methods of organized and impromptu corporal punishment. And more such examples than can be enumerated on this blog.

Sports can show us both the best and worst that the human condition has to offer. Sports can be on the front lines of our collective drift toward tolerance, fairness and inclusion; sports has given us some of the most sublime and memorable examples of kindness, companionship and humanism that you will ever seen, anywhere. Unfortunately, sports has also given us abusive coaches, running up scores on hapless opponents, and deplorable examples of bullying and machismo. The Mike Rice video, with its ensuing conversations, is an opportunity for not just the sports world, but our society as a whole, to move an increment forward regarding methods of instruction and leadership. and it has to begin with Rice and Pernetti being shown the door.

(postscript: Rutgers’ assistant coach Jimmy Martelli, known as “little Rice,” was also on the extensive video compilation physically attacking players in various egregious manners, screaming “f–king fa–ot” at them in similar manner to Rice, and basically replicating Rice’s behavior. He has, as of this postscript, resigned.)

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