A video emerged Tuesday showing Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice shoving players, cursing at them, and calling them gay slurs. When the university found out about it last year, its athletic director says the school fined Rice $50,000 and suspended him for three games. That's it. Now people are desperately trying to figure out how the coach and the A.D. are still employed.
A warning: The language in this video is not wholesome. ESPN's Outside the Lines released the footage, as an example of Rice's behavior during Rutgers basketball practices during his first three years at the school, from 2010-2012. It shows Rice pushing student-athletes he is supposed to mentor; throwing basketballs at their legs, feet, and heads; and calling them "motherfuckers," "pussies," "cunts," "sissy bitches," "fucking fairies," and "fucking faggots." In December, the school suspended Rice for three games and fined him the $50,000. At the time it wasn't clear why Rice was suspended. This video is why.
The video was given to ESPN by former Rutgers director of player development Eric Murdock. Murdock contends he was fired by the program after bringing a half-hour tape of practice footage to the athletic department in July 2012. He then brought the tape to ESPN, and now he's planning to sue for wrongful termination.
Today, ahead of ESPN's revealing the footage, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti played the whole tape for reporters — the university learned of ESPN's plan to release the video, and so it scooped them. Rice said the gay slurs were "at the core of the suspension." The pushing, the shoving, the throwing the ball at a player's head: that was all "not acceptable," but ultimately it was the "fairy" and the "faggot" that put Rice in the stadium box instead of working the sidelines for three games in December. Pernetti disputed Murdock's claim that he brought the video to the athletic department in July. He said he didn't know about it until November. And Murdock wasn't fired, Pernetti said; his contract was up, so the school decided not to renew it. As for Rice, the school stood by his continued employment despite three years of physical and emotional abuse documented on tape. He has undergone anger management and will be on a short leash in practice from now on. But Mike Rice will remain the coach of Rutgers basketball.
Pernetti, the A.D., wants to keep his job. To fire Rice for proof of those three years' worth of physical and emotional abuse would be to acknowledge that Pernetti either looked in the other direction that whole time, or was lenient when presented with the same evidence we're seeing today back in November — or July, or whatever, it doesn't matter. Pernetti didn't do the obvious thing, which is to fire this guy.
The college sports chattering class has already started coming for the heads of Rice and Pernetti. And it may be up to Rutgers, the school, to answer for this. Not the athletic department. "Get out. You've got three hours to pack your stuff and get out," Michael Wilbon said on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption early Tuesday evening. "This isn't the 1950s and 60s anymore. You can't do this. Get out," he added. "I haven't got a problem with cursing at a player, but pushing players and kicking players and the gay slurs are unacceptable," his co-host Tony Kornheiser agreed. "Before we get off the air, this gentlemen needs to be shown the door," Wilbon concluded. "Imagine what it would've taken for Rutgers to give Mike Rice a four game suspension," said Yahoo!'s Dan Wentzel. "While Rutgers is throwing out Mike Rice, they should dump the AD who didn't see Rice's behavior as fireable," said Dan Shanoff. "If the Rutgers athletic family is as big on accountability as it says it is, it's time to fire some folks," writes Pat Forde. "If I had a son, and my son played for Rutgers, Mike Rice would be in some physical danger right now," said Shutdown Corner's Doug Farrar. "Clearly, Rutgers' current AD should be fired for that most egregious of NCAA sins: Failure to pay off the previous AD," he added. "Were I the direct superior of Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti, I would suggest he polish up his resume, and get some help cleaning out his office," ESPN's Jay Bilas chimes in. "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," added none other than the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James.
This isn't the first time shoving a player has come up in what is more of an ongoing controversy over how NCAA coaches treat their amateur players. As Deadspin outlines here, this debate comes up at least once a year, sometimes twice. Cal coach Mike Montgomery shoved one of his players during a game in February this year, and the school came under fire for not suspending him. Morehead State coach Sean Woods was suspended one game for doing the same thing in November. And Rice had a similar outburst — arguably worse — to Montgomery and Woods, and he burst out repeatedly, in practice, in view of every member of the team, for three years. Again, he was suspended for three games and fined $50,000. He is paid a base salary, before bonuses, of $300,000. Deadspin's John Koblin says it's more like $650,000 after everything.
Bobby Knight was fired from Indiana in 2000 after video showed him choking a player, once. He was kept on initially with the same no-tolerance policy Rutgers is giving Rice. Knight was fired shortly after for breaking that no-tolerance policy.
At the time of this writing, Pernetti and Rice are both still employed. Pernetti is cancelling his scheduled media appearances, but at least he still has a job. A job with the same school that was upset when Don Imus called their women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed hos." Maybe everyone's over reacting here. Maybe this all isn't so bad. It can be hard to fire one of the five finalists for Athletic Director of the Year for being terrible at his job:
@rutgersu all thanks to my alma mater— Tim Pernetti (@Tim_Pernetti) March 19, 2013
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.