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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rutgers right to send bully coach, insensitive AD packing

During my dazzling athletic career, I did a lot of running.

Some of it was for training purposes.

If you ask any coach, he’ll tell you that preseason runs are a great way to get rid of the kids who aren’t really all that interested in sports — the ones who are trying out for the team because their friends are, or whose parents are forcing them. Long runs in the heat of summer were the way my volleyball coaches dumped the dead weight from the team.

I’m still not sure why I stuck around, or how I actually made the team, because all I could do was serve. I couldn’t set. I couldn’t jump. And, well, I hated to run.

But I did the best I could to keep up and somehow for five years made the volleyball team in both junior high and high school before I quit after 11th grade.

Running also serves as a good punishment during practice. Laps are a coach’s friend, as they send those who can’t remember a play or who lose a showdown off for couple turns around the gym.

The really bad mistakes brought the call for the dreaded “suicides.” These involved sprints to and from the various lines painted on the gym floor, culminating in the sprint to the opposite wall and back.

If you made a mistake that resulted in the entire team performing suicides, you were really in trouble — with the coach and your teammates, who would much rather have been on a water break while you were running.

I’m guessing Mike Rice wasn’t big on running.

Nah, the former Rutgers coach had his own special way of getting his point across to his men’s basketball team.

He’d just throw a basketball. At the players’ heads.

Or, he’d call them names.

In case you missed it, Rice resigned on Wednesday after ESPN aired footage from some of his basketball practices at the New Jersey school. In the footage, the coach is seen heaving countless basketballs at his players’ heads, legs and bodies. He’s seen pushing the players around, often using a forearm to the throat. He’s seen grabbing them by the jerseys and pulling them toward him to scream in their faces.

And, he’s heard countless times calling them names, including some that could best be described as homophobic.

I don’t know Rice at all. I’ve never met him or spoken to him.

But, I feel safe in saying that Rice is a bad guy. He had no respect for the young men who played for him. And, frankly, he had no respect for the school for which he coached.

In the hours after he was fired by the college — only after a public outcry at the video that was first aired on the ESPN program “Outside the Lines” — Rice seemed to apologize.

“I want to tell everyone who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I’ve caused them.”

Would have been nice if he’d told his players he shouldn’t have hit them. He shouldn’t have tried to humiliate them. He shouldn’t have abused them.

But, surprisingly, Rice isn’t the worst guy in this situation.

No, that title goes to now former Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.

The college fired him on Friday morning, days after he tried to explain away the fact that he’d ignored the hours upon hours of tape showing this abuse in his gymnasium for months before slapping Rice on the wrist by suspending him for three games this past December.

Only after the tape was made public by ESPN did Pernetti finally decide it wasn’t acceptable behavior.


Yet another case of someone being sorry because it’s the popular thing to do.

According to The New York Times, Pernetti didn’t have a background in college athletics when he was hired by Rutgers. He was a former television executive who handled sports broadcasting.

He then, above anyone, knows the power of sports on television. As a human being, he should have known the value of respectful treatment by authority figures.

It’s good that he’s not in the position to have the responsibility to protect the athletes at a major American university any longer.

The Scarlet Knights get to start over. And, hopefully, the school’s athletes will feel safe returning to the court next fall.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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