Take a minute and think back to the hardest sports practice you ever had. You ran further than ever, played harder than ever, and somehow your coach was still disappointed in you. I remember coming home from field hockey practice and not being able to sit down because we did so many squats, lunges, and sprints. The worst days were those when my coach was angry. You didn’t necessarily know it from her words – you knew it from all the extra drills. Someone showed up late to practice? Ten laps. A few people were goofing off on the sidelines? Seventy-five pushups. And, no, you’re not permitted to do the “girl” kind. Although I hated practices like those with every fiber in my being, I appreciated them in the end. I was in better shape back then than I could ever hope to be now. The extra drills taught me discipline and made me a better player.
Now imagine your worst practice amplified by a thousand (whatever that means…just imagine it being a lot worse). Your coach is screaming homophobic slurs at you and your teammates. You’re constantly tense because you don’t want to be your coach’s next victim as he hurls a basketball at your head, shoves you out of the way, or kicks your legs and groin.
This is the story of Rutgers University.
Mike Rice, basketball coach for Rutgers, held abusive practices for at least three years. There are hours of these practices recorded on tape, but a video of such practices just went viral several days ago. Rutgers is under serious investigation because they knew of the abuse months ago. Instead of firing Rice, they “suspended him for three games, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to take anger management counseling” (New York Times). Clearly such measures were not enough, as the abuse continued. The administration tried to cover the issue because Rutgers had been invited to join the Big Ten; negative publicity about Rice’s abusive measures would only hurt the school even more. Furthermore, the homophobic slurs are even more controversial following the suicide of a gay Rutgers student in 2010.
As NCAA President Emmert once said, college sports are supposed to be an integral part of a student’s education. Although the NCAA and college teams make great sums of money off their major sports, the sport should never become so dominant that coaches feel they can take advantage of the power they’ve been given. Usually we hear of coaches abusing this power by treating their student athletes better than they should, typically by providing them with benefits that were not included in their athletic scholarships (take Reggie Bush, for example). The situation at Rutgers, it seems, is unprecedented. There have been coaches like the famous Bob Knight of Indiana, who, although adored by fans and players alike, once threw a chair during a game against Purdue. There has never before, however, been a case publicized like that of Rutgers and Coach Rice.
College sports should be intense. They are the step before entering the professional league if a player is good enough. It should prepare them for what professional scouts are looking for in an athlete. However, coaches should be a guide during that process. Coaches should be mentors and role models. They must inspire their athletes to play as best they can. They should not make their players targets of personal aggression. The measures taken by Coach Rice not only hurt the Rutgers basketball team (in more ways than one) – they hurt the entire Rutgers community. College athletics must become a safer place where athletes develop both physically and mentally. Abuse prevents such development from occurring.
If you have not seen the video yet, here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbaYqcMMZ6A