By now, nearly everyone has heard about the firing of Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice, in response to recently released video excerpts from practices where Rice shoved players and pelted them with verbal abuse, gay epithets and basketballs from close range.
To be clear, this is not a video of an isolated training session gone terribly wrong. No one can claim that the coach just had ONE REALLY BAD day. Maybe he had mellow, group-hug kind of days too… but this was a pattern.
I hope that most logical, educated adults with reasonable priorities will agree that it was correct to fire Rice. For once I’m with LeBron James, who tweeted this:
Here’s an even bigger news story, though, with a bullet. While the Rice video surfaced only this week on ESPN, Rutgers had known about it for months. University officials allegedly sought to keep it quiet, and discreetly dispensed punishment of a three-game suspension, a fine and anger management classes. Rice was fired only after the public got a glimpse of his unique approach to player motivation, and went nuts.
(It doesn’t help Rice’s cause that nearly every newspaper and website seems to possess a vast archive of photos of him screaming and gesturing wildly, while veins pop out on his forehead. Even if you have never seen Rice coach, those shots make him look like a hot head.)
Now the spotlight is aimed squarely at Rutgers’ administrators – particularly University President Robert Barchi and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. Pernetti has issued a mea culpa for dishing out such a light initial punishment, and vows to work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community. Still, it won’t be a huge shock if he loses his job too.
The biggest head-scratcher is Robert Barchi, who claims he heard about Mike Rice’s intense behavior but had never actually seen the video until now. So, he says, he supported a brief suspension and fine at first only because he didn’t have all the facts.
Assuming what Barchi says is true, I pose this question: Have universities learned nothing from the Penn State fiasco?
You will recall that PSU football coach Joe Paterno’s defense was partly based on his claim that he had heard rumors about Jerry Sandusky being abnormally fond of young boys, but had never read reports of inappropriate behavior, such as those from the University Police Department. I am always perplexed by that. Wasn’t he even curious?
Similarly, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley seems to have done his best to avoid detailed knowledge of events related to Sandusky. For example, according to the 267-page Freeh Report, Curley was offered the name of Victim 2 (the boy involved in the shower incident witnessed by Mike McCreary) so that he could interview him, but Curley declined. He declined?
Here’s a tip for educators everywhere: You are responsible for the safety of children and/or young adults. If you hear something that sounds sketchy… LOOK INTO IT! If someone mentions a video of inappropriate and/or dangerous behavior, ask for a copy and WATCH IT. If you get wind of a police report about one of your faculty members or students, READ IT.
Ignorance – especially willful ignorance – is not a viable defense. It won’t fly in the court of public opinion.