In the wake of this week's turmoil surrounding Rutgers men's basketball head coach Mike Rice being fired for physically and verbally abusing players, former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones tweeted that today's athletes need to "toughen up."
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But after witnessing the video, I was taken aback and was glad Chipper had tweeted that comment instead of me. Rice most definitely overstepped even the "old school" boundaries of what used to be acceptable. If you haven't seen the footage, give it a glimpse here. It's downright appalling.
In the video, Rice forcefully shoves players, throws balls at them as hard as he can, and screams relentlessly in their faces. Most of the balls were thrown at their legs or feet, but there was at least one instance where he drilled a player in the head. I've experienced that (accidentally), and it's no fun.
Then there were the homophobic slurs; lots of them. I saw coaches call a few guys "sissy" as a way of questioning their manhood, but that was the extent of it. I never saw the type of verbal abuse that Rice exhibited. Ever.
With a few rare exceptions, almost everything I saw on the video was completely unacceptable for a coach, either in the 1960s or the 2000s.
My biggest question through the process, though, is how did Rice manage to keep his job this long? These videos were taken to athletic director Tim Pernetti by former basketball employee Eric Murdock nearly a year ago. In December, Pernetti suspended Rice for a whopping 3 games. Barely a slap on the wrist.
Then, when Rice was fired this week, it came after university president Robert Barchi said he changed his mind after finally watching the videos. The suspension, he said, wasn't harsh enough, so he decided to can Rice. I think it was just a veiled attempt to keep his own job. Hopefully, he isn't successful.
This farce is one of the worst cases of lack of institutional control I have ever seen. Once the videos were viewed by Pernetti, he should've made sure Barchi saw the footage and recommended the firing. Who is in control of this university and athletic program? It would appear no one.
The incident brought on a bit of a twitter war between myself and a fellow who shall remain nameless, when he said the only difference between this guy and former Indiana coach Bobby Knight was that Knight won games, which kept him employed longer. I disagreed vehemently with that point.
I'll be the first to admit that Knight was no saint, and in the end, he probably deserved to lose his job. But I don't think Knight's actions were anywhere close to what I saw on the video of Rice.
The majority of Knight's transgressions came at the expense of other adults, not his 19 and 20-year-old players. Aside from one isolated incident (yes, I'm aware he "choked" a player once), Knight was more of the old school coach that I mentioned earlier. That's why 98% of the guys who played for him would still go to war with him.
Knight was interested in molding his players into the best that they could be, while Rice appears to have only been interested in terrorizing and abusing his athletes.
Still, Chipper is right. Today's athletes need to be tougher. Mainly because this is a situation where I would like to have seen one of them punch their coach's lights out.