The question isn’t, as many news reports would have us believe, whether the Mike Rice affair mandates an administrative house-cleaning at Rutgers. Of course it does. The question is why, after the far uglier Penn State scandal, anyone possessing the gray matter of the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” thinks otherwise.
In case you are really smart and pay no attention to the dire ethics swamp known as college sports: Mike Rice was a very successful Rutgers basketball coach until ESPN got a hold of a video compilation of him abusing his players on multiple occasions. Though the Rutgers athletic director had seen the damning evidence in November, he let Wise off with a fine and suspension; then the recent national exposure forced him to fire Wise. This prompted Rutger’s president, Robert Barchi, to fire the athletic director (Tim Parnetti) for not taking appropriate action once he had discovered his coach was hitting, assaulting, and taunting players. And Barchi? Even though he knew, or should have known, that Rice’s methods were unacceptable, he never looked at the video (or so he says) that was available to him six months ago, until April. The New York Times reports that many Rutgers officials as well as the university’s outside attorneys knew that Rice was abusing his players,and that he had been doing so for years.
The net lessons learned from the Penn State disaster are zero. As the Times article says, “interviews and documents reveal a culture in which the university was far more concerned with protecting itself from legal action than with protecting its students from an abusive coach.” Yes, a coach attacking student is far short of child-molesting, but that’s irrelevant: the corrupt cultural syndrome is exactly the same. Rutgers, top to bottom, placed winning basketball games above sportsmanship, decency, fairness, and protecting their own students. The difference between Rutgers and Penn State is Joe Paterno and moral luck.
Let us be clear: if a teacher physically assaults a student, anywhere, at any level, ever, that teacher has to be fired, and probably prosecuted. A coach is no different. This isn’t open to debate. Yet I listened, as my gorge rose, to the glib and simple-minded conservative radio host Sean Hannity jabber with ex-Notre Dame football coach and facile “inspirational speaker” Lou Holtz about how Parnetti got a raw deal. Why? Parnetti built a great program! So he lets his coaches assault his players—anyone can make a mistake! Isn’t this hindsight? Second-guessing?
“Players are spoiled today; they just aren’t ready to be criticized,” said Holtz, who speaks in platitudes and nostrums that cover a Neanderthal sensibility (so you know he’s much in demand for corporate speaking gigs.) These men are both ethics-challenged fools, but they have plenty of company. Rutgers’ report on Rice’s abusive treatment assembled excuses and rationalizations by the authors and others. Rutgers athletic assistants said the video clips showing Rice kicking his players and throwing objects at them “were taken out of context.” What?? In what “context” is it appropriate for a college coach to do this? None! Many of Rice’s players said he prepared them well for tough competition. The report noted that under Rice’s abusive, tortious methods, the players’ grades rose to a B average. Oh! Well, that must mean assault and battery is okay, then, because it works! This is the ethical standard Rutgers is teaching its students.
Parents everywhere: grab your student and run.
Elsewhere, Rutgers’s internal report called Rice “passionate, energetic and demanding” and concluded that his intense tactics were only aimed at improving his team and “were in no way motivated by animus.” Ah! So beating kids is okay, as long as it’s well-intentioned! This culture is sick, sick, sick and as with Penn State, it is part of a large sick culture that pervades university sports. Here’s one official from another sick school defending Parnetti:
“I think it was unfair for them to fire Pernetti. There were probably a lot of things that went into the decision not to fire Mike Rice in December. And as gruesome as that tape was, it was also a first offense for Mike Rice. I think Pernetti is taking the heat for everything and sometimes in leadership roles you take the glory probably more than you deserve and you take the heat more than you deserve. I think right now Pernetti is taking the heat more than he deserves.”
A first offense???? The video was compiled from dozens of incidents, and Rice’s penchant for violence and abuse were already known! Yeah, there were “a lot of things that went into the decision not to fire” Rice, none of which add up to a single good reason not to get rid of any coach who beats up kids in his charge.
The New York Post interviewed a college official who believes its all Facebook and Twitter’s fault:
“The whole situation, top to bottom is a shame. But my opinion is that there is no manual or rule book for how to handle these types of situations. To say (Pernetti) should have handled this situation a certain way, well unless you’ve been in his shoes, it’s hard to comment on it. Obviously there was a reason why Pernetti kept Mike Rice around. What was that reason? We don’t know. But one thing I saw was that his kids, his players backed him. So In my opinion do you know what got Mike Rice and Tim Pernetti fired? Social media got them fired. People make comments and form opinions without knowing all the facts sometimes. That’s the world we live in now.”
Yes, there is a rule book, and it’s called ethics, not that this guy, or whatever college he works for, would recognize it. “Unless you’ve been in his shoes”? The translation of this fatuous and offensive rationalization is simple: “Hey, there’s a lot of pressure on this guy to win, and he’s not going to let a couple of bruised sophomores jeopardize the won-lost record and alumni support. I bet you’d let the kids get beat up too.”
I wonder what schools those two anonymous officials work for? That’s the frightening part; they could be working at almost any big time sports school, because that’s the predominant culture there.