Rutgers coach Mike Rice was fired Wednesday after a videotape aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using gay slurs. The videotape, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, prompted scores of outraged social media comments as well as sharp criticism from Gov. Chris Christie and NBA star LeBron James. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 03, 2013 7:14 PM
This is college basketball’s big week, yet the spotlight has been hijacked by Rutgers basketball.
With the Final Four just days away, the sport is forced to deal with a giant black eye.
Rutgers head basketball Mike Rice — a man few in the nation ever heard of, and a program well out of the fast lane — was fired Wednesday.
The reason for his firing: a video tape showing Rice physically going after players. He threw basketballs at them, pushed and shoved his players, shouted homophobic slurs at them and generally appeared like a man out of control.
It was old-school coaching gone wild and a disturbing video of Rice’s actions was finally made public Tuesday.
The school, the coach and even the governor of New Jersey said they were embarrassed.
They all seemed to quickly pass the blame on Rice, who clearly was in the wrong. Firing the head coach who on tape is seen firing basketballs at his players, sometimes at their heads, is the easy call.
Yet Rutgers officials are left to answer more questions about their lack of action than the action they finally took.
It seems the school had already seen the video tape of practices gone bad and elected to keep the coach, who had far more losses than wins in his career.
Rutgers did punish Rice, suspending him for three games and fining him. The school also ordered its coach to seek anger management counseling.
All nice moves, but not enough when you consider he had the lives of kids in his hand.
Now Rutgers claims that after reviewing its decision it wasn’t enough and finally gave the coach the old heave-ho.
Seems the school is backpedaling only after the fact the video became public. Nothing has changed since Rice was first punished.
So we are now left to wonder what Rutgers is firing him for, his behavior or the fact that his actions became public. We know nothing of what the school stands for.
Maybe that’s what they all should be embarrassed about.
Haven’t we learned enough?
It’s interesting that schools of higher learning seem to be the last to get educated on some subjects.
Rutgers should have learned from the Penn State debacle, or other scandals of the past. Yet instead they circled the wagons and protected the institution while forgetting the most important thing: they are there to protect the kids.
What Rutgers did by leaving Rice in charge was to expose the players who represent the school to more abuse.
Simply put, they kept the players in harm’s way.
It’s one thing to not know what is going on, but it is an even bigger mistake to know and not do enough.
If Rice’s actions were worthy of him being fired on Wednesday, why not back in December when the school first saw the video?
All of Rutgers’ actions seem only to protect the reputation of Rutgers, not the players.
We have seen this show before and it is getting old. Rutgers is just the latest that tried to hide its troubles only to have them exposed by an outside institution or individual.
Bottom line: you can’t keep secrets in today’s media tech-savvy world, so why try?
Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, the man who pushed Rice but it seems also made the decision to keep him at first, said his earlier actions were not enough.
That admission comes a little late, after the hand was caught in the cookie jar.
He proclaimed that he will “work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”
It would be nice if he earned that trust by becoming a leader and taking the right action at the right time.
This is the major problem in college sports. The schools want the athletes, ages 18-22, to act as leaders when it comes to all things on and off the playing field. Yet the very same administrations that make such demands act as if they are the children when big issues surface.
They hide and hope the problem goes away.
They never do, of course, and in the end there is always a bigger mess to clean up.
Rutgers basketball is just the latest to show us this fact.
Unfortunately, once again it won’t be the last.
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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org