The Mike Rice Firing: The “Why” is Disturbing

Original Post: April 3, 2013

You’ve seen the video and heard the voice of Mike Rice.

The University of Rutgers men’s basketball coach is shown shoving and grabbing his players at practice. He is seen throwing basketballs at them and he is heard belittling them using homophobic slurs.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Mike Rice has been fired.

But, Rice wasn’t dismissed because of the way he treated his players. That’s not the real reason he is out as basketball coach.

The Images, Not the Behavior, Led to the Firing

It’s because of the videotape.

Think about that for a moment.

If the tape had disappeared, if it had been erased after Athletic Director Tim Pernetti viewed it, Mike Rice would still be the coach today. He was fired only because the videotape of his behavior made him a public relations nightmare.

That is an embarrassment.

Is there really any question as to whether Mike Rice should have been fired?

How could Athletic Director Tim Pernetti view that tape and think the best path was “rehabilitation” and a “second chance”?

And look at the reaction from Rutgers President Robert Marchi. The way he is backing away from his role in this mess, you would think he’d never heard of Mike Rice.

Public Reaction is the Key Factor

What is most disturbing is that the handling of this case is more the norm than the aberration. When dealing with an individual seen as an asset, actions to address misconduct often fall short —- unless it becomes a public scandal. Then, things change.

10-years ago almost to the day, I wrote an ESPN Radio commentary about the Jim Harrick debacle at the University of Georgia, stating that administrators who make mistakes involving ethical misconduct won’t keep their jobs.

I was wrong.

More often than not, that hasn’t been the case. It often takes being backed into a corner for appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken.

And this isn’t just in colleges. We see it everywhere — business, government, with organizations, with individuals.

Everybody wants accountability, but they want it to start with somebody else.

A source close to the Rutgers University Board of Trustees told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Wednesday afternoon that “Pernetti’s job is safe” for now because of his prior work on getting Rutgers into a lucrative Big 10 deal last fall.

As if somehow, that should be a mitigating factor.

As is so often the case, Pernetti’s fate and that of senior administrators, including President Barchi, will be determined by the amount of public relations damage. The longer it lasts, the more fallout we will see.

This isn’t the way it should be, of course. We all know that.

Effective Leaders Act With Integrity

If we are to change the ethical climate, we have to hold ourselves to higher standards. We need to do what we believe is right, even when it isn’t easy. Even, in the case of a university, when it might result in negative publicity.

When facing decisions, you’ve heard the saying “If your parents and friends knew what you were doing, how do you think they would feel”. And you’ve heard the C.S. Lewis quote “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching”.

In today’s world, why not assume that everybody will find out just about everything that goes on….and behave accordingly?

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