Playing to win is no excuse for abuse

In Opinion
Courtesy of MCT
Courtesy of MCT

As part of the latest strings of college sports scandals, former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was recently fired for his outrageous behavior toward his basketball players at Rutgers University during practices from 2010 to 2012.

In a video shown last week on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Mike Rice was seen screaming obscenities and homophobic slurs, like “f*ckin’ f*ggots,” “c*nts,” “motherf*ckers,” and “sissy b*tches,” at several players during some practices.

One of the players who endured Rice’s berating was Lithuanian-born Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to the University of Rhode Island because of Rice’s treatment. According to ESPN, his “nicknames”—given by Rice—included “Lithuanian b*tch” and “soft-ass Lithuanian p*ssy.”

Aside from the verbal abuse, Rice was also seen heaving basketballs at players’ heads, shoving and violently grabbing the players and kicking them.

The video footage has been circulating around the web, and it has left people outraged. Many find Rice’s actions downright deplorable, while others have found his behavior to be no big deal, just “tough love.”

I, for one, was rather disturbed by what I was seeing in this video. It seemed clear that what he put his players through had nothing to do with their playing efforts during practice, but rather that this man has some serious anger issues and was clearly not emotionally stable for such a job position.

As far as coaches calling players names, the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed was a high school football player being called a “caca head.” Whatever the reasons may be as to why Mike Rice acted the way he did, I wouldn’t call this “tough love.”

Rice’s physical abuse reminds me of Bob Knight, a former men’s basketball coach for the Indiana University Hoosiers who was fired in 2000 for choking former player Neil Reed in 1997.

There is a fine line between “tough love” and abuse. If Rice’s intentions were to whip them into shape and improve their performance as a team, that’s understandable. However, throwing tantrums like a three-year-old child who can’t get his way isn’t going to help anything or anyone.

People like him are just looking to exert power, and, from a (corrupted) coach’s point-of-view, if the team continues to win they can justify their power trip.

It is nothing less than manipulation, something we probably don’t really think of happening in a coach-player relationship. It is often seen as a possible occurrence in relationships between couples or parent and child.

Whatever parties are affected by manipulation, it all produces the same reactions. Like a child feeling like they’re not good enough due to the abuse they endure from their parent(s). I would imagine some of the players on the Rutgers men’s basketball team felt a similar feeling. Not a feeling of self-defeat, but rather one of knowing something isn’t right and that they should leave.

And that’s what three players, including Gilvydas Biruta, did after not being able to handle Rice’s mistreatment anymore, according to Eric Murdock, a former director of basketball player development at Rutgers who was fired for reporting Rice’s abusive behaviors.

Rice’s horrid actions were absolutely unnecessary and, unfortunately, it would not surprise me if this is happening elsewhere.

In regards to that, this case reminds me of the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal. Like the Penn State scandal, where school officials knew of the ongoing misdeeds but failed to do anything about it for the sake of protecting the football program—the Rutgers coaching scandal is no different.

Although Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti suspended Mike Rice for three games and fined him $50,000 in December, the consequences were not enough.

Rice should have been fired a long time ago. It’s a good thing he is fired now, but technically speaking, he was let go due to the public outrage, not because of his callous actions.

What if Eric Murdock, or anyone for that matter, never acted as a whistleblower in this case? Would such misconduct be exposed to the public eye? It seems too much to hope that three players leaving the school due to mistreatment would have eventually shed light on what was going on for two years.

Other than that, I am pleased that this has been getting a good deal of attention from both the media and people in general; maybe this could lead to weeding out folk who are engaging in inappropriate behavior more quickly and create better hiring processes.

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