By NICK CHILES
As a former athlete and the father of athletes who have played sports at every level up to NCAA Division 1, I have been around dozens of coaches in my lifetime. But never have I seen anything close to the behavior of just-fired Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice. This guy was unbelievable, kicking players, throwing balls at their heads, calling them “fairy” and “f**got”—exhibiting such extreme behavior toward his players at practice that it’s shocking Rutgers didn’t fire him right away in December when school officials first watched the video of him in action.
When a parent hands his/her child over to a coach, there’s an enormous amount of trust involved in the transaction. Not only are we expecting the coach to properly instruct our child on all the technicalities of the sport in question, but the coach is supposed to be a surrogate parent of sorts when we’re not around. That means caring about their well-being and their development. That means protecting them from physical harm and also from mental and psychological damage. That means sparing them from the violence of your emotional meltdowns.
Watching Mike Rice in action at practice, I fear for what this immature, infantile man did to his own children at home when they angered him. Or maybe he just reserved his meltdowns for other people’s children.
I can’t imagine how upset I would have been to witness this coach putting his hands on my child, cursing at him, calling him names. And it would be no less upsetting if it happened when my son was a large, imposing college athlete, on the verge of manhood. We’re still looking at a grown man in a position of power, emotionally abusing those who have less power, still at a vulnerable time in their lives when they are trying to figure out for themselves what kind of men they want to be. What lessons did Coach Rice’s players learn from him about the appropriate behavior of powerful men, about how to react when someone does something you don’t like?
As NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted, “If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I’m still gone whoop on him afterwards! C’mon.”
Now the coach is gone, out of a $655,470.55 a year job.
And Rutgers officials, including Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and President Robert L. Barchi, are trying to say all the right things now, with the world watching, after their initial response to his behavior was a three-game suspension, a $75,000 fine and a ticket to anger management classes. Anger management? Really? That’s like sending a rapist to etiquette classes.
Now they are expressing shock over his behavior and apologizing that they somehow didn’t have the same level of shock before. But another sign that the school was practicing the head-in-the-sand method of disciplinary action is what they did to the whistleblower, former NBA player Eric Murdock, the team’s former player development director. Murdock, who gave the Rice video to ESPN, says he was fired for blowing the whistle on Rice. The school says he was let go for “insubordinate conduct” unrelated to the video, according to ESPN.
“To see your coach physically putting his hands on players, physically kicking players, firing balls at players from point-blank range, the verbal abuse, the belittling, I was in total shock that this guy wasn’t fired, immediately on the spot,” Murdock told ESPN.
Murdock is reportedly about to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Rutgers.
“Don’t tell me that’s the old way. That’s the wrong way,” John Thompson Jr., the legendary Hall of Fame coach who led Georgetown to the 1984 national title, told the Huffington Post. Thompson was clearly intense and demanding, but you also saw his love for his players. Thompson, whose son John Thompson III is the current Hoyas coach, called the images “child abuse.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if the athletic director and the president find themselves out of a job very shortly. After witnessing the spectacle of child molester Jerry Sandusky being protected by so many powerful people at Penn State, I can’t imagine the trustees at Rutgers having much tolerance for the blind eye exhibited by these Rutgers officials.
For those who would dismiss the coach’s actions as merely an expected part of sports culture, I say “bullsh*t.” That’s not part of any sports culture I’ve ever seen and it’s definitely not expected. When you’re talking about other people’s children, you have a moral duty to treat them like you would your own.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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