By Andrea Fowler.
Mike Rice, head coach of men’s basketball at Rutgers University, was fired Wednesday after video was broadcast on ESPN documenting Rice’s abuse of his players. Debate about Rice’s future at the university has surrounded the program since his behavior was first reviewed in December of last year. According to a written statement from Tim Pernetti, Director of Intercollegiate Activities, “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong.” In the last five days, Pernetti and assistant coach, Jimmy Martelli, have also been fired. Several dozen faculty members called on the administration to oust all those with knowledge of this abusive behavior.
Not only was Rice’s behavior (hurling basketballs from close range at players, grabbing and shoving players) under investigation, but he was also cited for inappropriate language, including sexist and homophobic slurs. According to the report by Don van Natta Jr. on ESPN’s website, Rice called Rutgers players “f—-ts,” “m—–f—–s,” “p—–s,” “sissy b—–s,” and “c—s,” to name just a few. At least three players have recently transferred from the team. A report from the Newark Star-Ledger reported earlier this week that two additional players planned to leave at the end of the semester.
This type of behavior by coaches is certainly nothing new. And this behavior exists to varying degrees at levels. Is it necessary to tear players down in order to build them up to greatness? And is every player destined to go professional? How many young athletes quit because they cannot handle this kind of “leadership?” And do these coaches realize that they are encouraging an environment of hate by using sexist and bigoted language? Players who do not measure up physically are considered effeminate. It’s a safe assumption that a men’s coach probably hasn’t watched a collegiate women’s basketball game recently. These women are tough, dedicated, and just as physically capable. Universities are showing that this behavior will be tolerated, especially when it gets the desired winning record. Those wins did not come for Rutgers under Rice’s tenure.
There is no excuse or justification for sexist and bigoted language and violence in any situation, let alone an environment that is supposed to be educational. It would be naïve to think that college athletes are attending classes just earn a degree and that they just happen to play a sport on the side. The phrase “student athlete” is a misnomer. Colleges and universities driven by the economic impact of their athletic programs are beholden to the tried and true adage “the ends justify the means.”
This is not the first time that Rutgers has found itself at the center of a media storm regarding homophobic behavior. In September 2009, freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after being harassed by his roommate and other students. Upon the discovery that Clementi was gay, his roommate, Dharun Ravi, shared video of an intimate encounter between Clementi and another man. Ravi was ultimately sentenced to 30 days in jail, but was not held legally responsible for Clementi’s death.
Tyler Clementi inspired New Jersey’s “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” and helped state lawmakers pass the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation, which Governer Chris Christie signed into law in January 2011. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.) have renewed their efforts in Congress to pass the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.” This bill is designed to prohibit the harassment of enrolled students by other students, faculty, and staff.
Recently, ESPN Films 30 for 30 aired “Survive and Advance,” directed by Jonathan Hock, documenting Jim Valvano’s incredible 1983 championship run with NC State. On clear display throughout the entire film was Valvano’s ability to reach his players and inspire greatness and teamwork through the family environment he created. Valvano may only have one championship to his name, but he left behind a legacy that a coach like Mike Rice could never even dream of. Mike Krzyzewski and Phil Jackson have frequently demonstrated that the highest goals can be met through hard work, dedication, and the right approach to the game – not through calling players names and physically assaulting them.