UPDATE Not a Firing Offense Until Everyone Saw the Video
Video obtained by ESPN shows basketball coach kicking players, hurling balls at their heads and using anti-gay slurs. University briefly suspended coach in December, but didn't take further action until the video became public
Video obtained by ESPN shows the Rutgers University men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, kicking and grabbing athletes, hurling balls at their heads, and using multiple anti-gay slurs, of which "faggot" is but one.
The video offers some explanation for why Rice was suspended for three games and fined $50,000 in December (a move for which the university never offered a detailed explanation), but has raised questions about why he was not fired at the time. (UPDATE: On Wednesday, Rutgers announced that it would fire Rice. Details are below.)
Tim Pernetti, the athletics director, took the action he did in December based on the video. But he defended to ESPN the decision not to dismiss Rice, saying that while the coach's actions were wrong, they should be treated as a "first offense." The ESPN videos -- which include footage from many practices -- indicate that the behavior was far from isolated.
(UPDATE: A statement released Wednesday quoted President Robert Barchi as saying that he had been briefed on and approved the earlier punishment, which fell short of dismissal. But the statement from the president added: "Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability. He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University. Therefore, Tim Pernetti and I have jointly decided to terminate Mike Rice’s employment at Rutgers.")
Rutgers actually released the video Tuesday before ESPN did, showing it to reporters after learning that ESPN was about to broadcast its report.
As the video was seen by more people, outrage over the behavior -- and the idea that this conduct wasn't immediately considered a firing offense -- spread online.
"So, just wondering, how many chances do you get to assault an athlete? Missed that information in the student-athlete handbook," wrote ESPN's Dana O'Neil. "Coaches, colleges, conferences and the NCAA love to prattle on about what's best for the student-athlete. Here's what's not best for them -- personal verbal attacks and physical abuse from the coaches charged with their care. It has to stop with a line as crystal clear as the chalk on a baseball diamond. If coaches can be fired for not winning enough games, surely it isn't asking too much to dismiss them for abusing the players they promise in recruiting season to treat like their own sons and daughters.
As the day progressed, some news reports indicated that the university was reconsidering its decision not to fire Rice, and other reports said that the university was standing behind Rice.
Catherine A. Lugg, a professor of education at Rutgers who has questioned the university's focus on athletics, said via e-mail Tuesday night that the video was shocking. "It is disgraceful and dangerous that Rutgers University continues to employ a coach who is clearly violent, sexist and homophobic. This is not how we should be preparing our students to become future leaders of their communities," she said.
William J. Matthews, president of the Rutgers University Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Alumni Association, said the university's response in December to the video raised questions about the administration's commitment to equity. "Having been involved in many of the programs Rutgers has developed since Tyler Clementi, I think that in many ways they have done a very good job," Matthews said. "However, those efforts just don't seem to apply to the world of sports, and I don't understand that."
He added: "I don't understand why the administration treats athletics with such kid gloves. This guy should have been fired -- not just for the homophobic slurs, but for what he did to the players. That's abuse."
Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national group focused on youth sports, said, "It's amazing that an institution of higher education would allow a coach to treat people that way. It's so far out of bounds that it's really kind of astonishing.... It's a reflection of the damage that the win-at-all-costs environment can do. In sports, unlike in virtually any other human activity, we seem to have the idea that you get the best out of people by abusing them."
One compilation of Twitter comments included "Every hour that passes and Rutgers hasn't fired this guy, someone above him should go, too," and "What's scary is that Mike Rice's boss thinks a 3 game suspension was/is appropriate after watching the video and hearing the language" and "Main question I have is who else at Rutgers saw that video? Did the president or chancellor see it? Get ready for CYA mode."
In the fall, videos of several coaches shoving or berating players sparked debate over what lines should not be crossed. But those incidents may seem tame in comparison to the Rutgers video.
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