On Wednesday morning, Rutgers University fired its men’s head basketball coach, Mike Rice, after videos of him assaulting and demeaning players were shown on ESPN on Tuesday.
The videos showed Rice yelling obscenities and homophobic slurs at his players, as well as throwing basketballs at players, which drew the ire of prominent New Jersey politicians such as Gov. Chris Christie and NBA stars such as LeBron James and Ray Allen, who lashed out at the now former coach.
But these tapes aren’t new. The so-called investigation began last summer and was headed by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. In addition to Pernetti, the tapes were viewed by independent investigators and school officials, including University President Robert Barchi.
These tapes aired only this week, the same tapes that show a coach grabbing players, yelling degrading slurs and even throwing basketballs at the heads of players have been seen by school administration for at least six months.
What was the response? A three game unpaid suspension, a $50,000 fine and an order to attend anger management. Both Pernetti and Barchi saw the tape and the coach berating his student-athletes. Both signed off on the slap-of-the-wrist punishment doled out to Rice last fall. If they believed that Rice should not have been immediately fired for these blatantly-obvious actions, then they deserve to be fired themselves.
After the tapes went public, Pernetti appeared on WFAN in New York to attempt some level of damage control for not only the university, but himself as well. In the interview, Pernetti said, “I think now that [the videotape] is out there—we knew it was going to get out there.” The school had simply been hoping the tapes would never become public knowledge, no one would be willing to speak up and call out the atrocities that occurred.
What did Rutgers do when someone was willing to speak up? The school fired him. Former NBA player Eric Murdock was an aide during Rice’s tenure with the university and when he reported Rice’s offenses to the school administration—an attempt to stand up for the college students being abused and assaulted by their coach—he was fired. Or according to Pernetti, his contract was simply not renewed, making his firing seem not directly related to coming forward about Rice’s antics, which is very hard to believe.
Prior to hiring Rice, the team was coached by Fred Hill, Jr., who was terminated with cause after heckling and launching into what has been described as a “profanity laced tirade” against University of Pittsburgh head baseball coach Joe Jordano at a game against Rutgers, where Hill’s father, Fred Hill, Sr., is the coach of the baseball team. Before him came Kevin Bannon, who was fired in 2001 after reports came out that, as a punishment, he forced players to remove clothing for each free throw they missed and run wind sprints while naked.
Pernetti has been at the school since 2009 and Barchi began only this past academic year, so while they are not directly connected to these two hirings, the university has set a terrible precedent for hiring coaches that abuse players, opponents, or even athletes playing a different sport.
In the same interview with WFAN, Pernetti went on to say that the school seemed to know that this reaction and uproar would eventually happen, saying “The reaction—we knew what it was going to be. I need to sit here and think about what gives us the ability to be effective going forward in men’s basketball, and more importantly, what protects the university.”
Pernetti said it plan and clear. What was more important, more important than being effective in “going forward” for basketball, seemingly more important than the student-athletes that were affected, is protecting the university.
If it were not for Murdock to supplying the tapes, or ESPN to show them, this story would be kept under wraps. Even if Murdock was not so unceremoniously dismissed this past year, he might not have had the desire for retribution to expose his past employer.
The two saw the tapes well before the media did and had plenty of time to make the proper and immediate move to fire Rice. They didn’t, and instead were lenient, saying Rice was a first-time offender. After the first slur, the first grab, the first ball thrown at a player, he was no longer a first-time offender.
If the university wants to make this all go away, just as Pernetti and Barchi wanted it to, they need to go away too.