(The Root) — Embattled Rutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice has officially been fired after a video showing him abusing players during practice went viral on Tuesday. While many are applauding his firing, I’m wondering why it took the brass at Rutgers University so long to do what should have been done nearly four months ago, when evidence of Rice’s verbal and physical abuse of players surfaced. Can you say “self-preservation”?
How sad is it that it took a viral video of Rice hurling homophobic slurs and using his players as whipping posts for officials at Rutgers to let go a man who hasn’t even had a winning season in three years? We’re not talking Bobby Knight here (who was just as vile, mean-spirited and abusive to his players), who could at least point to an amazing record and legendary basketball program with the Indiana Hoosiers.
Before you start with the hate mail, I’m not excusing Knight’s behavior; I am simply stating that at the very least, you could see why administrators were hesitant to get rid of him because there would have been some serious damage done to a winning program, which leads me squarely back to Mike Rice.
We’re talking about a man whose team has not been a major factor in men’s college basketball for the past three years being able to hold on to his job, despite evidence that he mistreated players for two years, from 2010 to 2012. That is completely unacceptable, when the right thing to do would have been to get rid of Rice and — call me crazy — hire a coach who could help restore the Rutgers men’s basketball team to its former glory.
That is truly the sad part of the scenario: an unwillingness by administrators, under the guise of sports culture, to do what needed to be done from the beginning. One only has to check out some of the games of the summer basketball leagues to witness the amount of abuse lobbed onto young players, many of them in middle school and high school, to see how some coaches go too far in dealing with these, dare I say it, children.
Just because these young men are tall and exceptional athletes does not mean that they aren’t human. Rice, who is a pretty poor representation of a college basketball coach, is learning that lesson the hard way. You don’t get to abuse and mistreat students because they are athletes.
We get it — you’re the coach and in charge — but it takes a weak individual to exploit that power in such a way, which leads me back to the administrators. Heads should roll, not necessarily because these incidents happened but because administrators failed to do anything about it. The college failed to protect the rights of the student-athletes, and someone in the administration should pay the price.
Rice didn’t create this environment alone; the fact that whistleblower Eric Murdock’s contract wasn’t renewed speaks to the conspiracy to silence Rice’s dastardly deeds and to allow this toxic environment and treatment of players to continue. That decision by administrators to let Rice remain in his position is just as hard a foul that needs to be checked.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.