How did it make you feel?
When you watched the video footage of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice mistreating his players, what was your first thought?
When you watched scene after scene of Rice kicking, pushing and throwing balls at his players in practice, all while screaming profanities and homophobic slurs at them, how did you react?
If you have been a coach, had children who played sports, or just have a good heart, it likely made you sick to your stomach. You probably felt an urge to rescue the Rutgers players from the basketball hell Rice created. Surely, at some point you thought, as Miami Heat guard Ray Allen did, that if you were in charge at Rutgers, "I would do everything I could to make sure that coach got fired."
It is important to remember how you felt the first time you saw that footage because athletic director Tim Pernetti was once in the same position as you. He sat down and watched those scenes for the first time last November, watched one of the university's highest-paid and most famous employees physically and verbally abuse students.
Was he shocked? Probably. Did he feel empathy for the players? Maybe. But did he fire Rice? No. He suspended him three games and fined him $50,000.
On Wednesday, the school did fire Rice, but only because ESPN aired the sickening practice footage on Tuesday, and because everyone from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to LeBron James criticized the school's handling of the situation. The school mentioned "a review of previously discovered issues," when it announced Rice's termination, which is a wordsmith's way of saying that outside pressures forced the school to act.
"I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice," Pernetti said. "Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December, and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community."
Let's hope he never gets that chance. Let's hope that Rutgers Board of Governors calls an emergency meeting and fires Pernetti. No investigation needed. No internal review required. His actions (or inaction) are as despicable as Rice's, and to do anything but kick him to the curb is just a repeat of the mistake that Pernetti made in December when the found some excuse to keep Rice. While they are at it the Board of Governors should also fire university president Robert Barchi, who was made aware of Rice's actions in December and still allowed him to keep his job.
There is no possible reason to leave those two in power, not after you parse what happened last December. Barchi and Pernetti are smart men. Before taking over as Rutgers president, Barchi was a physician and neuroscientist. Pernetti is a former television executive. They knew that firing Rice and disclosing what he did would do to the school's already tarnished image. In March 2012, the trial of a former Rutgers student who put a video of his gay roommate kissing another guy, which led the roommate to commit suicide, brought unwanted scrutiny to the school. Barchi and Pernetti were surely aware that the news of Rice's derogatory remarks about homosexuals would reignite that controversy, and that it would lead people to further question the university's leaders.
Firing Rice in December would have had serious repercussions. So Barchi and Pernetti tried the easy route first to see if they could get away with it.
Contrast that with what happened about a year ago at Arkansas.
Athletic director Jeff Long discovered that his football coach, Bobby Petrino, was having an affair with a member of his staff. He investigated and when he learned that Petrino had lied about the affair, he fired him. This was not a popular decision, as Petrino was a winner (something Rice was not in his three years at Rutgers), but Long made the hard choice.
Barchi and Pernetti weren't interested in the hard choice. And they certainly weren't interested in what was best for Rutgers players.
University presidents and athletic directors like to remind people that the athletes are students first and athletes second. They tell us again and again that the players are amateurs, young kids, and that we should keep that in mind whenever judging them.
But many of those people, including Barchi and Pernetti, are hypocrites. If a Rutgers professor had done what Rice did, he would have been fired immediately. If Barchi and Pernetti had viewed what Rice did outside the prism of big-time athletics, if their concern was really for those students, they would have watched Rice treat those athletes worse than most people treat their dogs and canned him.
Instead, they were too worried about themselves and the Rutgers brand. Their inaction was despicable and cowardly.
Let's hope the Rutgers Board of Governors isn't as cowardly. Let's hope they give Barchi and Pernetti a push (or kick) out the closest door.