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Coaching accountability

Posted on 04.24.2013

Aggression and a little trash talk are a part of any good, competitive game. Yelling, shouting and cussing are a part of any intense practice. Good athletes know this and carry a sense of mental fortitude to get through those tough games and practices—it’s all a part of the game.
But these norms are meant to be tamed, not carried to their extreme. There must exist a level of mutual respect—an unspoken contract of  trust—among players and between players and coaches—for the aggression and competition to stay in check. Unfortunately, that social contract and sense of trust is often damaged when individuals, both players and coaches, cross the line in their conduct.
Mike Rice,  former head men’s basketball coach at Rutgers University, presents the ultimate example of crossing the line of conduct. Rice made headlines earlier this month when his contract with the university was terminated after the release of a video documenting his horrific verbal and physical abuse of players.
The video, which can be found on online news outlets or on YouTube,  shows a deranged Rice hurling basketballs, expletives and homophobic slurs at various players during practices.
While Rice’s behavior was inexcusable, the incident has an even darker side that speaks of a university’s hushing of the complaints and investigation of Rice. Reportedly, both Rutgers President Robert Barchi and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti were made aware of Rice’s pattern of abuse months prior to the video leakage.
According to a recent article in The Los Angeles Times, Rutgers University hired an outside law firm in November 2012 to investigate Rice’s behavior and compile a report, complete with information from interviews with players and coaches, as well as video footage of practices.  In the final report, the external attorneys noted that Rutgers University did indeed have the legal justification to fire Rice, in accordance with the specific details of his contract. Although the report concluded that while “many” of Rice’s actions were intense but permissible in the realm of NCAA Division I basketball training, “certain actions” were unacceptable and in violation of the contract.
Instead of firing Rice then, with the legal justification from the report and exhaustive evidence of a long-term pattern of inexcusable behavior, Rutgers settled on three minor measures of punishment for Rice: fines, a three-game suspension and anger management classes.
That’s it—that is, until the university fired him, but only after ESPN aired the incriminating video that shocked the nation.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Barchi acknowledged the university’s inadequate handling of the incident as it evolved, calling it a “failure of process.”
And Barchi was exactly right with these few,  simple words. The Rutgers-Rice incident was a failure of process, just as much as it was a failure of character and behavior on Rice’s part.
The real failure lies in the fact that somehow, a university was complacent,  keeping an abusive man on staff and enabling the patterns of abuse to continue. Somehow, fines, a few missed games and a handful of classes, were deemed as sufficient redress for wrongs that could not be undone.
Even worse is the lingering question of how long the abuse would have gone on, unchecked and unaddressed, if the video had not been released.
If the only way to bring true accountability to a university is through the spread of a viral video, then there is something seriously wrong with that university’s oversight and procedures for handling these types of incidents.
Hopefully,  the Rutgers incident will prove to be a wake-up call for universities across the country to examine their procedures. No university would like to think it could hire an abusive coach who would cross the metaphorical line in his conduct on the court. But, as we have unfortunately seen, incidents do happen, and institutions must be prepared to face them with policies in place and a commitment to enforcement.


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