Mike Rice: Rutgers Must Take Stand and Fire Head Basketball Coach

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Mike Rice: Rutgers Must Take Stand and Fire Head Basketball Coach
Elsa/Getty Images

In mid-December, Rutgers suspended men's head basketball coach Mike Rice for three games and docked him $50,000.

At the time, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti refused to elaborate on the cause of the punishment, other than to say that the offending actions took place during practice and that they were "not to the Rutgers' standard that we evaluated and decided upon."

A Tuesday report by ESPN's Outside the Lines revealed just exactly what was hiding behind that pernicious piece of administrative doublespeak, and it isn't pretty.

Footage collected by OTL showed Rice screaming obscenities at players, hurtling basketball balls at them from close range and aggressively contacting them on more than one occasion.

Have a look.

In addition to airing the video seen above, OTL corresponded with a number of former Rutgers players, some of whom supported Rice's motivational tactics, some of whom downplayed his intensity and some of whom, not surprisingly, corroborated the report in full.

The star witness was fired Rutgers coach, and former NBA first-round pick, Eric Murdock, who spoke of Rice disparaging players' ethnicities, using all manner of pejorative terms and, perhaps most troubling of all, getting off on it.

"Bullying players made him feel better," Murdock said. "If he made a kid feel miserable, he was able to sleep at night better, even though the kid is going the other way and he's not going to be as productive. ... He has real anger-management issues. He can't control his temper. ... I can't believe that anywhere else in the country it is worse than this -- it's the absolute worst."

Now remind me again why this man is still a public employee of the state of New Jersey?

Remind me why a third-year men's basketball coach at Rutgers University can use his social rank to bully subordinates, many of whom are essentially held captive by their scholarships?

Remind me why Pernetti passed this off to a public as a "first offense" when the abuse in question took place over the course of two seasons?

I guess "first offense" is code for "first time caught." Because the evidence makes it clear:  Rice was most definitely a serial offender.

Before you launch into your angry rhetoric about how hippie pinkos have ruined America with their hypersensitivity and fuel-efficient cars, let's try to reason here.

This is not a question of whether or not you personally think physical abuse is an ethical form of motivation. I frankly don't care how you choose to "inspire" your personal acquaintances, so long as its legal.

This is a question of whether or not we as a society should condone and shelter those that wield violence as a public weapon, whether or not having a whistle around your neck gives you free licence to act like a tyrant and whether or not the kids subjected to this abuse deserve some form of protection.

The power dynamic in college athletics is always skewed toward the coach. He's the adult. He's the one that makes money. He's the one with ultimate decision-making authority.

The kids, on the other hand, have exactly one lever of control: leaving. And even that can be difficult given NCAA transfer rules and the paucity of scholarships available.

Elsa/Getty Images

So it doesn't really matter to me if these videos skew Mike Rice's coaching tactics or somehow amplify his apparent anger-management issues.

Because this really isn't about Mike Rice. It's about the next coach who thinks, "Maybe I'll run my fist through this kid's jaw." It's about the next AD who sees his employee modeling psychotic behavior and opts for the path of least resistance.

And it's about protecting kids—18-, 19-year-old kids—who've been stripped of their agency by a system that compels them to play basketball for free.

It baffles me that some people would defend even the nastiest brutes under the delusional notion that their rage is instructive, or that punishing them somehow undermines the American character.

If firing a jerk undermines the American character, then the American character could use some undermining.

But my guess is it doesn't.

When you throw around platitudes like that, all you're really doing is lowering an ideological veil over deranged behavior. You're giving the abuser another societal redoubt to hide behind. You're telling him or her that it's ok to proceed without restraint.

And you're putting his next victim in the cross hairs.

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