By Ernie Palladino
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As much as most of us have come to understand the power of the court of public opinion, it’s downright shocking that a few people out there forget that it actually exists.
The past couple of days have given us prime examples of the levels of stupidity both coaches and players can sink to. The actions of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice and Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson created such public firestorms that it cost one of them his job and the other an additional blot on an already shaky reputation.
Rice’s was the most serious, by far, because he actually manhandled his players and hurled balls at their heads and regions well south of any acceptable basketball pass. Oh, and the homophobic language didn’t help, either.
Regardless of the timing of his firing, it was well-deserved, not because he broke new ground in the area of player abuse, but because a coach simply cannot do those things in this day and age. Those are old-school ways, remnants of a by-gone era where parents regularly beat their kids with belts and wooden spoons and vocabulary-challenged coaches motivated through force.
That was called discipline back then, and society condoned it. The 10-day hell Paul Bear Bryant put his Texas A&M football team through in Junction, Tex. in 1954 not only went unpunished, it was glorified by his players and journalists alike. “The Junction Boys,” written by the fabulous Jim Dent, recounts the torture Bryant inflicted in that dusty, drought-stricken town. One player nearly died of heat stroke. The ground vegetation dug into the players’ fingers and made them bleed. The verbal abuse was almost unbearable as Bryant ran off one weak constitution after another until only a handful of players were left.
It became the stuff of legend. Times have changed, though. Those things are unacceptable now, just as basketball legend Bob Knight’s penchant for putting his hands on players is unacceptable now. Granted, Knight stuck around forever because he won, something Rice failed to do in grand fashion. But the overall climate of opinion forbids that type of behavior these days.
In 2013, one must think Knight himself would have been summarily fired had a Rice-like tape of his practices hit YouTube.
Now we come to another rocket scientist in Johnson. Blessed with outstanding athletic ability, Johnson apparently came down Wednesday with a case of the shorts in the common sense department. With North Korea rattling on about throwing nuclear weapons around, Johnson tweeted (imagine, Twitter getting yet another celebrity in trouble) “War is nothing to be played with…I apologize North Korea…but if y’all do bomb 1st…bomb Foxboro, Mass.”
Probably seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, Johnson had beaten the Patriots only once in the 10 times he’s faced them since the Bills drafted him in 2008. But really? Forget the fact that his coaches are probably irate that he gave Bill Belichick a nice bulletin-board item for their first meeting of 2013, but what about the tastelessness of the remark?
The situation has grown so volatile politically that there is a very real chance that Kim Jong Un could unleash a warhead or two and set the stage for a nuclear war the world avoided throughout all the years of the arms race with the former Soviet Union.
Did he really think it a laughing matter?
He took down the tweet after a flood of criticism blasted through the internet. But, as they say, you can’t un-ring a bell. It will be interested to see whether the Bills or the league fines Johnson for his tone-deafness.
It all comes down to thinking a little, really. Mike Rice’s actions were unacceptable in this more-evolved era. Johnson’s words were just plain stupid in a week fraught with potential danger.
The court of public opinion found both men guilty as charged.
What were these guys thinking?! Sound off on Rice and Johnson in the comments…