Joe Gandelman: Why Mike Rice had to go
Retired professional basketball coach and former basketball player Phil Jackson once said:
“Not only is there more to life than basketball, there’s a lot more to basketball than basketball.” Someone should have told that to Mike Rice, Rutgers’s retired-by-being-fired former basketball coach.
Rice was fired after ESPN aired video showing him yelling at players on his team, shoving them, throwing balls at their heads, and using a gay slur that begins with “f.” University administrators knew about the video as early as November. A Rutgers board member now insists he called for Rice’s immediate firing after seeing the video, but it only resulted in Rice being investigated.
The Star Ledger in New Jersey, in an editorial, declared: “The evidence against Mike Rice was too damning, too vile, too extreme for him to spend one more day on the Rutgers University payroll. That he remained employed this long — long after a line of Rutgers officials that winds all the way to the president’s office had watched the now infamous video — is an embarrassment...”
Gov. Chris Christie told reporters “You have lots of successful coaches...who don’t act this way...they don’t conduct themselves like animals. [What] parent would let this animal back into their living room to recruit their son, after this video? I’d hang up the phone.”
A journalist friend points out that Rutgers is New Jersey’s only major state university that doesn’t carry the state’s name as opposed to, say, UCLA, USC, or CalTech. He contends, “Rutgers has tried to compensate by pouring ungodly sums of money into its athletic program to the detriment of minor sports that were dropped. The basketball coach scandal is, in part, a result of skewed priorities.” And, indeed, The New York Times reports that when also-fired Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti learned of Rice’s behavior he was negotiating to try to get Rutgers into the Big Tent with its prestige and perceived riches.
Some conservatives and Fox Newsers took the other side. Eric Bolling said firing Rice because he got rough with players showed “ it’s time to toughen up” and that it represented “the wussification of American men.” Fox News Rush Limbaugh wannabe Sean Hannity said: “Maybe we need a little more discipline in society. Maybe we don’t have to be a bunch of wimps for the rest of our lives. My father hit me with a belt. I turned out okay.”
Actually, if Hannity was hit with a belt as a kid, then there are some who will feel he is the living, breathing reason why no kid should E-V-E-R be hit with a belt. But Hannity’s final sentence begs serious examination.
Here are two non-secrets, Sean. First, a good chunk of people abused as youths grow up to have abusive relationships. And, second, suicide is the number two cause of death among college students. Despite their big bodies, college students are youths who may be sensitive, psychologically vulnerable and impressionable.
The real issue is how we choose to imprint young people. Will they turn behaviors and attitudes we show them into their into own? For that reason alone — not the mere act of angrily pushing a kid young enough to be his son, or throwing a ball real hard at a kid’s head, or yelling out a sexual bigot word — Rice had go to.
Is he now apologetic, almost in grief over his actions in how they let down the university, his team and his family? Reportedly, yes. Is someone who uses Rice’s tactics a shaper of young minds and behaviors? Let’s hope not.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.