The problem goes beyond Mike Rice and existed long before him.
In sports, in society as a whole, we often embrace the bully – not only by failing to stand up to him, but by making excuses for him and his behavior, by hailing him for showing “tough love,” and, worst of all, by continuing to put him in positions of power … because we’re just too damn scared to take a stand, or too damn screwed up to realize we even need to take a stand.
At a time we should be celebrating the impending culmination of college basketball’s annual elimination to excellence, not to mention another installment of fun-loving, thought-provoking and argument-starting Midweek Madness, we instead are being inundated with stories, videos and opinions about the physical, verbal and motivational, um, “tactics” used by a coach for power-conference program that hasn’t been a power since, well, ever.
Yeah, OK, Rutgers University reached the Final Four in 1976 and the Sweet 16 three years later. But, keeping it real, that’s not saying much for a program that just finished its 106th season. All told, the Scarlet Knights have made six trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Yet, for the last couple days, they and, even more so, their now-former coach have bumped the likes of Louisville, Syracuse and Michigan, all proven entities on the big stage, from the spotlight – the initial two, ironically, being from the same conference as RU. This year’s Cinderella (Wichita State) hasn’t even been given a supporting role, never mind a starring one.
Well, it’s an interesting phenomenon that seems to exist in every walk of life to some degree. The arrogant, abusive blowhard in charge gets preferential treatment. Or the “brand” becomes the almighty focus for the product or service. Essentially, everything and everyone but the base reason the product, service, brand and bully even exist are given every consideration.
The workers, the athletes, the humans who make it all go? They’re barely an afterthought.
Rice’s firing was no better than his fine-and-suspension combo back in December when his unacceptable, expletive-laden, ball-tossing, pushing, punching and kicking daily hissy fits at practice were brought into clearer focus for the university’s administrators.
Back then, it was all about being afraid to pull the trigger for any number of reasons – financial hit, recruiting hit, credibility hit, change or whatever else, it really doesn’t matter. Now, it was all about public opinion, about Rutgers being able to move forward and have its product – in this case, the basketball program – succeed in some way, eventually, as it enters a new minefield in the Big Ten, and “look good” in the process.
It’s not a surprise. We’ve all lived, or will live, lifetimes in which guys like Bobby Knight are idolized by a large group who emphasize the end result being more important than the route taken to get there. The old-timers at any point in time will regale youngsters with how much tougher things were in their heyday, and how the rants and beatdowns by a coach, a teacher, a boss not only were routine but required to build character and become better.
Better at what, showing some jerk that, when push comes to shove and words come to insults, it was OK to treat you as far less than a living, breathing individual?
The real sad story with all this is if Rice had been a winning coach at New Jersey’s state university, he’d still have a job there today.
He’d still be in the good graces with RU athletic director Tim Pernetti and school president Robert Barchi.
He wouldn’t be the object of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s disdainful ire.
He wouldn’t have offered those phony apologies.
The brand would be safe. The bottom line would be sound.
The players? They still wouldn’t matter. They never did.
That’s the problem. It always is.
The fact Rice wasn’t canned within the first five minutes of video witnessed by Pernetti back in November is the problem. The fact the latter, as well as Barchi, wasn’t dismissed right along with Rice is the problem.
The fact any of us accept, if not promote, the bully – especially at the expense of humanity – is the problem. The fact that a brand takes precedence over its people is the problem.
It’s been one a long time.