It’s been a long time since I’ve written about domestic violence.
But watching the video of Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice repeatedly hitting, kicking and verbally abusing his players during practice gave me the chilling sense that I was watching a training film on the dynamics of domestic abuse. He dished it out, they took it, he kept dishing out, they kept taking it.
Can you see how this works? It wasn’t their fault.
But what were they supposed to do?
These were not superstar professionals with the power to get a coach fired. They were in no position to fight back.
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And as with so many cases of family violence, when the “authorities” were alerted -- in this case university athletic director Tim Pernetti -- the abuser got a slap on the wrist (a three-game suspension and $50,000 fine) and returned to his victims. The person who reported the violence, former NBA player Eric Murdock, the school’s director for player development, was the one who got in real trouble. He was fired.
What is a coach if not a kind of father figure in the “family” that is a team? And what are his players if not his metaphorical children, as he shapes their characters and readies them for adulthood?
A coach, like a parent, holds a player’s self-esteem in his hands. He has the obligation to lead and to teach, but he also has the power to make a player’s life hell. Rice is a bully who has no place leading young men on the court or off.
Watching the video compilation of his abuse, I felt astonished that none of the players fought back. He threw basketballs at their heads, he shoved their chests, he shoved them from behind when they couldn’t see him coming, he pawed at their jerseys. He lobbed vile insults and homophobic slurs.
To their credit, not one of these testosterone-filled young athletes pushed him back or punched him in the face, though he richly deserved it. Some transferred. Others suffered.
“There were some players who couldn’t sleep at night, who wasn’t eating, who didn’t want to come to the gym,” Murdock told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
Had one of them hauled off and slugged the coach, it would have been wrong.
But who would have blamed him?
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