Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic) take on the Rutgers men's basketball coaching scandal.
This year's Final Four week has been marred by a coach with anger issues, a misguided (at best) athletic director, and a 30-minute video that actually becomes more disturbing with each viewing. Rutgers' men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired Wednesday after a clip emerged of Rice verbally and physically abusing his players in practice. On Friday, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti—the man who watched the video in December and recommended to Rutgers' president Robert Barchi that Rice should just be suspended for three games—followed Rice out the door.
Use your position of authority to belittle, berate and assault the men you have been tasked with making better basketball players and implicitly better people? You're a real American, man.
Some people, after watching the linked video above, say that it's just "men being men," instilling discipline in the youth of America. They say that Rice is the latest victim of a feminist, PC, anti-male culture. Or as Fox host Eric Berry put it: "All the wimp-ificating and wussy-fing, basically turning men into chihuahuas." Use your position of authority to belittle, berate and assault the men you have been tasked with making better basketball players and implicitly better people? You're a real American, man.
But it's 2013. That footage is abuse. I don't want to belabor the point, so let's just say my social views dovetail with this quote from President Obama: "What makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child, it's having the courage to raise one." Even if you truly believe that strength and bravery and physical domination are what make a Real Man, Rice's picking on defenseless players who would never risk their scholarship by fighting back is akin to Kevin Garnett only fighting people at least six inches shorter than he is—in other words, being a phony tough guy/real-life coward.
I agree with ESPN's Ian O'Connor, who on Wednesday called for Barchi and Pernetti to be canned as well. Pernetti's resignation is a good start, but Barchi must also be given the boot. Given that a previous Rutgers' men's hoops coach forced his players to run naked wind sprints if they missed free throws in practice, it's time for wholesale change at the New Jersey public university, which takes in a whole lot of taxpayer dollars.
Are O'Connor and I going too far, Hampton? What would you have done with Rice?
Slurs are unacceptable in any context. For that alone, Mike Rice deserved to be fired. But the hysteria around this incident is becoming a bit much. Rice behaved badly. He pushed, shoved and smacked. Worse—to me, anyway—he called the kids names. Verbal abuse, again, is what's truly wrong.
But I'm also more than a little freaked out by media hysteria and rush to judgment around Rice's case. Like the New York Times' William Rhoden calling Rice "maniac" and "abomination" and saying "there are more heads that should roll" at Rutgers. That's ironic, given part of what Rice did wrong was use inflammatory words.
Rice deserved to lose his job. He does not deserve to become a national object of scorn for the viral mob, a symbol for bully coaches everywhere, and fodder for debate about What it Means to be a Man.
A little compassion would be nice. Mike Rice didn't kill or rape anyone. Rice was under huge pressure to win at a school moving to the Big 10. He wasn't winning. He had some psychological issues. In December, the school suspended him for three games, fined him $50,000, and ordered him to get anger management counseling. That is the appropriate response. Now the incident is being portrayed like some kind of massive cover-up at a College Gone Wild, and we are told that only a purge at the top can restore order.
Rice isn't a cruel, frothing madman who lives to torment 19-year old point guards. He's a human being. You cited the president on manhood Jake, but Rice and wife Kerry seem to do a perfectly fine job of raising their two children.
Agreed, the coach deserved to lose his job. He does not deserve to become a national object of scorn for the viral mob, a symbol for bully coaches everywhere, and fodder for debate about What it Means to be a Man. He deserves a chance to get help, and change his life like anyone else.