By Jason Keidel
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In a profound sense, the Mike Rice montage of madness was far more grotesque than the replay of Kevin Ware’s injury. One was an arbitrary act of cruelty to a young man just doing his job. The other was a deliberate act of cruelty to a cadre of young men just doing their jobs.
You’ve seen the video on endless loop, somewhere in the kiosk of cable or internet entities. Rice didn’t cross the line; he vaporized it. Only a sick man doesn’t know the difference between teaching and torturing, between meanness and madness. You don’t bounce balls off your players’ heads, call them gay or ethnic slurs and yank their jerseys under the guise of guidance unless you are detached from the physical and metaphysical rules of human relations. Rice is a disturbed, if not deranged, man.
Rice was finally fired on Wednesday, but only as a transparent form of foxhole prayer, a reflex of social media gorging. Rice’s gulag approach to coaching is matched only by his boss’ alarming apathy.
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti was on with Mike Francesa this week, and his response was almost as disturbing as Rice’s deeds. Pernetti, who hired Rice, spoke in a calm, corporate cadence, belching platitudes about “protecting the university” and “going forward.” There was no outrage. In fact, he didn’t even say he’d fire the disgraced coach until the next day.
Some have asked why the kids didn’t mutiny. It’s the wrong question. From the time we’re born we’re trained to follow adults, from teachers to parents to policemen to coaches. By the time we’re 18 we’re imbued with such rehearsed obedience that we don’t question even the oddest behavior.
The real question is this: Why isn’t Pernetti standing behind Rice on the unemployment line? He was keenly aware of the video that poisoned the airwaves long before we saw it. If reports are accurate that he keeps his job because of his role in moving Rutgers to the Big Ten, then big-time college athletics have morphed into a vocation older than sports — prostitution.
According to ESPN, Rutgers athletics generated about $57 million in 2010-11, whereas the average Big Ten school produced about $91 million. So the implicit message is that abuse has a price — that we can buy stability, dignity and sanity.
I would never trivialize the atrocities at Penn State by comparing Rice to Jerry Sandusky, but the mechanics of looking the other way in the name of revenue seems to have corrupted every crevice of college sports — at least all the ones that turn a profit. The duplicity is even more poignant at Rutgers when you consider that they’ve already endured a recent tragedy, when former student Tyler Clementi leaped from the George Washington Bridge as the result of the very kind of bullying seen from Rice.
The mirage of the student-athlete blossoms every March, when we’re force fed these rags-to-riches narratives and fairy tale spinoffs like Cinderella or David vs. Goliath. It’s all part of the machine. Behind the scenes of your favorite film, there’s a dark side to entertainment. And there’s a wide swath of darkness behind the curtain of intercollegiate athletics.
Let’s hope that someone finds a flashlight.
Should Pernetti be fired for not handling this situation properly? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…