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The Villains: who deserves the most scrutiny from the Mike Rice scandal?

Mike Rice, Eric Murdock, politicians, and the media all have to account for their actions.

Nick Laham

Mike Rice's actions in practice over his first two seasons were by no means acceptable by any standard, but it is all a moot point now. He is out of a job, and will have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life. What he did was abhorrent. I am a manager myself, and simply in terms of practicality, abusing people is completely counterproductive. It exposes a chilling lack of empathy, never mind creativity and sophistication. There is no place for this sort of activity in sports or any walk of life, and tweets from players like R.J. Dill and Kyle Anderson over the past few days referencing similar incidents is beyond chilling.

I have not wanted Mike Rice to be the head basketball coach at Rutgers now for some time, but even more than I believe in the above principles. It is an important bed rock of our society that we maintain a respectable level of decency and fairness for all. Those traits that Rice did not express to his charges, making his fate a just dessert in one sense, but what exactly gets accomplished by stooping to his level? The media frenzy has failed in multiple respects then. Firstly, it has not offered Rice a chance at rehabilitation. As inappropriate and unbearable as his professional demeanor was, it did not rise up to the level of being incapable of redemption.

Suggesting that no one should ever be able to overcome their mistakes in life is barbaric. Perhaps he did warrant a chance to change at Rutgers, but he did and still does deserve one in life. Whether realized or not, implicit in the public outcry, rush to judgment, and demand for immediate action is a wholesale rejection of this virtue. This is literally the worst possible way to make any decision, and is only acceptable in the face of criminal behavior. This failure of critical thinking ought to have no role in any substantive process. Thankfully, all indications are that, whether you agree with what happened or not, the relevant decision makers did step back from the angry mob mentality that Eric Murdock's tape was designed to create.

The unclear nature of the advice provided by parties such as the independent assessor, university counsel, and other university leadership make any criticism of Tim Pernetti immensely premature. Pernetti, in all honesty, is a fantastic athletic director who has done wonders at Rutgers. His judgment and leadership have been so spot on thus far that him being primarily at fault is difficult to fathom. Indeed, Pernetti still has strong if not overwhelming support among athletic boosters. If he did something wrong, he should be held accountable. As of yet there is no accounting of what exactly happened, and given past sterling conduct he deserves the benefit of the doubt until the details come to light.

Not only is Pernetti beloved among Rutgers faithful, but all New Jerseyans loathe the state's notoriously corrupt politicians, and the Rutgers community is doubly suspicious given that state legislators launched a brazen, failed attack over the summer at the university's sacrosanct independence. This assault imploded spectacularly, leaving a considerable black eye for South Jersey political boss George Norcross, which leaves little surprise that Norcross's puppet Steve Sweeney is now on the warpath, looking to humble Rutgers and avenge the public's embarrassing, overwhelming rebuttal of their brazen attempt to dismember Rutgers-Camden and replace it with a political patronage mill with financial ties to Norcross's Cooper University Hospital.

Sweeney, an ironworker by trade with no college education, laughably claimed to ESPN's Outside the Lines yesterday that Rutgers "covered up" details regarding the Rice video, despite every major newspaper in the state reporting at the time that he used foul language and threw basketballs at players' heads. This brazen lie is par for the course for Sweeney, who is a hypocrite beyond contemplation.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said withholding his support for gay marriage last year was the "biggest mistake" of his political career. "I made a decision purely based on political calculation to not vote for marriage equality," Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said from the Senate floor. "I failed in my responsibility as majority leader to actually lead. I was wrong."

Sen. Sweeney is not only responsible for killing gay marriage in New Jersey four years ago (when Democrats controlled all branches of state government), but he did so purely for the calculus of political gain, with little care for the very real lives he was hurting in the process. Now that gay marriage has proven politically popular, Sweeney touts his (insincere) support for gay rights on the very Facebook page where his campaign staff have continually deleted critical comments from.

Sweeney's behavior is to be expected; what is truly unfair is that an otherwise admirable organization like Garden State Equality is touting the same charges. It's correct that Rutgers athletics wasn't exactly keen on touting that Rice used language like "faggots" and fairies," but his slurs against the national origin of players like Gil Biruta and Malick Kone was equally despicable and repulsive. Moreover, the organization's priorities are completely out of whack. Rutgers University offers one of the most socially tolerant atmospheres in the country. Instead of going after the politician who stopped gay marriage four years ago when Jon Corzine could have legalized it, or the cowardly Republicans like Tom Kean Jr. or Kip Bateman who privately support the idea but are holding off because Chris Christie wants to run for president,

GSE foolishly is looking to make an example out of an institution that, as a whole, is probably the largest force for social tolerance in the entire state. Yes, their whole motivation isn't exactly a secret. Tyler Clementi's suicide was and remains a sickening tragedy, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the climate on campus, and frankly there is little to no evidence that his roommate's illegal surveillance was spurred by anti-gay bigotry as opposed to pure sociopathy. Speaking as a strong and forceful supporter of gay rights, GSE's resources and priorities are utterly and completely out of whack. Furthermore, any attempts to tie Rice's hurtful comments to Clementi is brazen exploitation of the worst possible form.

As long as we're on the subject of warped priorities and false analogies, let's tackle the whole Penn State thing. Specifically, the two hypocrites du jour, Dana O'Neil and Joe Posnanski.


On any playing field at any level, there is always an area that is out of bounds. Cross the line and there's a penalty. There needs to be a similar line for coaches' behavior, and really, it's not that hard to delineate. Touch an athlete in any way other than a good-natured pat on the back and pay the price, and pay it dearly.

Zero tolerance you say? Oh, wait.

Knee-jerk reaction is easy and Twitter right now is afire with it. But determining true guilt and assessing real blame, even involving the most heinous of crimes, is difficult business and one that I am surely not qualified to handle.

Let's get this straight. Mike Rice being a rage-a-holic deserves immediate action, but Joe Paterno covering up pedophilia does not deserve a rush to judgment. Carry on. Glad to see where your priorities lie. Similarly, there's Joe Posnanski, who went to the trouble of destroying his reputation writing an entire hagiography for Paterno.

I don’t really see or hear two sides to that argument. The guy went way over the line, he was finally fired, he should have been fired when the Rutgers people first saw that video, and that’s all pretty easy.

Firing Mike Rice was pretty easy? Sure it was, but the pedophile enabler, that was a real shade of gray with lots of room for nuance. How are media conglomerates still tripping over themselves to hire this guy? Contemplating the thought processes that could lead actual human beings to hold these contradictory opinions makes me want to rip out my entrails like Cato the Younger.

Lastly, there is the matter of one Eric Murdock, who reportedly had his lawyers create the infamous video in question as leverage for a wrongful termination suit. Being a disgruntled employee doesn't make one's information incorrect, but Murdock's scorched earth tactics invite a lot of scrutiny. For one thing, by his own admission, Murdock waited until after his employment ceased to talk with Pernetti about Rice. That does not reflect kindly on him, nor do rumors about Murdock supposedly demanded a large sum of money lest the tape go public, although to be fair his attorneys are disputing those claims. Regardless, he clearly did not have the best interests of the players at heart in waiting as long as he did to speak up.

Not only are Murdock's employment prospects limited as a result of his actions, but there is a possibility that his threats of a lawsuit actually prevented Rice's dismissal in December. He may not receive the scrutiny of others listed above due to his perceived whistleblower status (outside of New Jersey anyway, where the Bridgewater native is now widely scorned), but that bit alone could ratchet him up the list of the very worst actors in this whole sordid saga.