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Patrick Hruby

The Rutgers Mess

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on Rutgers, Mike Rice and abusive coaches

The Atlantic online

In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we tackle Rutgers and Mike Rice. Just how angry do we need to get about a coach with anger issues?

Jake Simpson: ... This year's Final Four week has been marred by a coach with anger issues, a misguided (at best) athletic director, and a 30-minute video that actually becomes more disturbing with each viewing. Rutgers' men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired Wednesday after a clip emerged of Rice verbally and physically abusing his players in practice. On Friday, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti—the man who watched the video in December and recommended to Rutgers' president Robert Barchi that Rice should just be suspended for three games—followed Rice out the door ...

... I agree with ESPN's Ian O'Connor, who on Wednesday called for Barchi and Pernetti to be canned as well. Pernetti's resignation is a good start, but Barchi must also be given the boot. Given that a previous Rutgers' men's hoops coach forced his players to run naked wind sprints if they missed free throws in practice, it's time for wholesale change at the New Jersey public university, which takes in a whole lot of taxpayer dollars ...

Hampton Stevens: ... the coach deserved to lose his job. He does not deserve to become a national object of scorn for the viral mob, a symbol for bully coaches everywhere, and fodder for debate about What it Means to be a Man. He deserves a chance to get help, and change his life like anyone else.

I can't defend Rice's actions as a coach, but still find it hard to stomach the national reflex for outrage, and demands that everyone fall on their sword, as Pernetti did today. What Rice did was bad. No doubt. But it wasn't off-the-charts, beyond-the-pale, rabid craziness. Right after CBS aired their segment on Rice, after all, they aired a commercial for Applebee's with Bobby Knight joking about throwing a chair. Where, one wonders, was the moral outrage when the network cashed that check?

Obviously coaches can't make players run wind-sprints naked. But coaches do have to be able to make players run normal wind-sprints, or make them do laps, or push-ups or something. Coaches must exert some form of discipline. The giant flap over Rice's case seems to have become a touchstone for our changing norms about what kind of discipline our society is going to find acceptable. That's a good conversation for us to have ...

Patrick Hruby: ... Imagine this: You're a college student, and during class with your English professor, he shoves you in the back, kicks you in the shin, throws a Thesaurus at your head and calls you a fucking faggot, loudly and repeatedly, because he's unhappy with the wording of the thesis statement in your midterm Shakespeare paper. Would you want that professor suspended for three classes, forced to pay a fine equivalent to half of his year-end bonus put into anger management counseling, because, hey, the angry professor just wants to win? Or would you want him gone?

How about if you were the head of the English department? Or if the student in question was your son or daughter?

Rice is lucky he's not in jail, and luckier still that his players aren't in jail for beating him half to death. Because if he acted the way he did in a bar, a classroom, or an office, there's a good chance one or both of those scenarios would have taken place. But that's the thing: Take Rice out of a practice gym, and it's highly unlikely he would have behaved so badly. He did what he did because he's a coach, and as a coach he had the power to do it. He knew his players wouldn't fight back ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online