Monday, April 15, 2013

Saying No to Abusive Behavior

“There is no excuse for it. I was wrong.” So said former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice in his apology speech before cameras.

Most people who have watched the video of Rice abusing his players agree that he was wrong. He was wrong to push players around. He was wrong to throw basketballs at them. He was wrong to use homophobic slurs.

Not everyone agrees. At least one commentator on Fox took the stance that coaches use such physical and emotional violence to toughen up players; no harm was intended or done.

When the Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, saw the videotape he agreed it was wrong and suspended the coach for three games (pay forfeited) and fined Rice an additional $50,000. It was a “first offense” and Rice was to receive counseling during his suspension. Implicit in Pernetti’s decision was that Rice’s behavior was not sufficient to warrant terminating his contract.

The reaction of the players recorded on the videotape to Rice’s abuse was telling. They did not act surprised, angered or cowed at the abuse. Why? My assumption is they were inured to it. This was no first time offense, it was habitual behavior.

Once the video went viral the university fired Rice and a couple of days later fired Pernetti. An assistant basketball coach and university lawyer have also resigned.

Why did the public release of the very same video Rutgers was provided in November 2012 now lead to Rice’s termination in April 2013? Apparently only because that’s when the allegations of misconduct became widely known. Pernetti did not immediately indicate upon its release that he had erred in his earlier judgment to suspend rather than terminate Rice. No, he justified his actions.

Which means he too showed insufficient judgment to represent the university and had to go. According to at least one source, one of the Board of Trustees also saw the video in November. If, as has been reported, an outside director requested the president see the video, and the president decided it was not important enough to spend his precious time, the president too should resign. After all, the entire video is only thirty minutes long and the president was quoted as saying, “it took me five minutes” to decide to fire Mr. Rice.

If the Trustee did not continue to work to have Rice terminated; if he stopped when he met the presidential stone wall, he too should resign. I have no clue who else at the university saw the video before its viral release, but if they had any authority over the situation, they should also resign.

As reported in the New York Times, the university’s legal investigation focused on the technical question of whether there was a “hostile working environment.” They concluded it did not meet the legal definition. The problem with asking lawyers a narrow question is that you get a narrow answer.

The highest priority for any school should be the protection of its students. There should be zero tolerance for the kind of behavior demonstrated on the video and zero tolerance for those who cover it up.

~ Jim