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Firing Mike Rice: Did Rutgers do the right thing?
The New Jersey university fires its men's basketball coach after a video emerges showing him abusing his players, verbally and physically
 
Rutgers' head coach Mike Rice yells his directions court side during a March 12 game.
Rutgers' head coach Mike Rice yells his directions court side during a March 12 game. Elsa/Getty Images

Rutgers fired its head basketball coach, Mike Rice, on Wednesday, a day after leaked video showed him shouting anti-gay slurs and throwing basketballs at his players — and even kicking them — during practices. The New Jersey state university's athletic director, Tim Pernetti, suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000 after former assistant Eric Murdock showed university officials the video nearly four months ago. Pernetti said he had hoped the earlier punishment would lead to Rice's rehabilitation, but that he was wrong to keep him on and would now "work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community."

The video, obtained and aired by ESPN, provoked a wave of outrage on and off campus. The head of the state Assembly had called for Rice to be fired, and everyone from the state's governor, Chris Christie, to Miami Heat star LeBron James sharply criticized Rice for the abuse. Rutgers President Robert Barchi said the video clips showed "a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior." After Rutgers decided to fire Rice and begin searching for a replacement, Christie said "it was the right and necessary action" to get rid of the coach.

Many critics aren't letting the university off that easy, though. If Rutgers were concerned about simply doing the right thing, says Darren Rovell at ESPN, it would have fired Rice months ago when Pernetti got his first look at the tapes revealing Rice's behavior — "the screaming, the cursing, the throwing balls at players." The troubling thing is that the university's foot-dragging indicates that it had other reasons for finally pushing Rice out the door.

What put Rice on the chopping block is the fact that the tape went public. Nothing else. This was not a victory for human decency or for the players. This will simply be a victory for business. Here's the bottom line: The firing is only about the bottom line. [ESPN]

"The attempt at rehabilitation would have been admirable had Rice not already been known to be a hothead," says Jonathan Capehart at The Washington Post. The trouble is, Rice had a reputation as "a fiery guy with an edge" before he arrived at Rutgers, and, according to The Associated Press, Pernetti even says he talked to Rice for five hours about the coach's explosive streak before he was hired. You hire a guy even though you know he's a "bullying jerk," and you don't get to act surprised when everybody else finds out.

Talking to someone for five hours about his edgy personality was a red flag Pernetti should not have ignored. Watching a coach abuse his players is something a university president should not have ignored. It's great school officials fired Rice. But given the grip certain sports have on some college campuses, I have no confidence they wouldn't let it happen again. [Washington Post]

Some people are reserving judgment until they see what Rutgers does next. Rutgers has "finally, appropriately, and very belatedly" fired Rice, says Christine Brennan at USA Today. "Unfortunately, athletics director Tim Pernetti, the man who allowed Rice to keep coaching after seeing the hours and hours of awful videotape of Rice's behavior, still has his job."

How can the leadership of Rutgers University do only half its job today? How does the Rutgers athletic department move forward from such a blitzkrieg of a scandal if the man leading it thought that a three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine was proper punishment for the abuse, homophobic slurs, and all-out assault by its men's basketball coach on his players?

Rutgers is a state school, supported by the taxpayers of New Jersey. I'd dare say you could have shown the video to almost every one of the residents of the state and received a more reasoned and thoughtful decision than the one rendered by Pernetti at the end of last year. For that reason alone, he must lose his job. [USA Today]

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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