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The Mercy Rule

Horrible Bosses

Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice abused his players. He called them nasty names, hit them, threw balls at their heads, and was a generally awful human being. Now he's fired, and for good reason, but that he was more or less allowed to do these...
Κείμενο David Roth

Mike Rice isn't a very nice man.

You are, let’s say, making copies. A superior—not just your boss, the boss of pretty much everyone you work with—comes over. He’s crazy-eyed and fuming, his Jos. A. Bank dress shirt is covered in flopsweat, his brow is furrowed like a constipated anime character’s. He pushes you, hard, then grabs your shirt to make sure you don’t fall over. “Unbelievable,” he shrieks, “the fucking brain-dead faggots in this office! You stand here if you’re going to make copies!” And then he moves you to a spot 18 inches to the right of where you had been standing, and not at all affectionately smacks the back of your head. He stalks away, then stalks back; he’s shorter than you, and so he is blasting spittle up at the underside of your chin. “You stand here, you worthless [derogatory name for whatever ethnic/cultural/sexual minority you belong to] motherfucker! Think you can fucking remember that?” And you nod, maybe, and then he throws a stapler at you.


So: what to do. Throw the stapler back? Quit? Report the entire Biz Casual Kamikaze Werewolf assault to a superior because it’s the right thing to do, inevitable consequences—more thrown staplers and yowling-saliva power washings at best, being banished or fired at worst—be damned? Or do you just avoid eye contact and take to surreptitiously slipping schnapps into your depressing coffee-from-one-of-those-little-plastic-cup things and sort of recede? Your answer is your answer, but the good news is that you will almost certainly never have to deal with this sort of thing from a boss.

If you’re unlucky enough to work in a field where rage-intensive and thunderously narcissistic mental illness is considered not just normal but proof of one’s worth—there are two: feature-writing for big-ticket men’s magazines and coaching big-time men’s basketball—you are very unlucky, indeed. If you’re a fan wondering about the stubborn longevity of bile hydrants like now former Rutgers coach Mike Rice—last seen in a video physically and verbally assaulting the players on his losing, lifeless basketball team—well, that’s something else.

Rice himself, it seems, is not all that complicated a case. He’s the sort of ultradriven type A-hole who goes into college coaching and who is smart enough to claw himself to near the top of the pile (he got the Rutgers job after building a winning program at Robert Morris University). His time at Rutgers—where he has continually missed out on New Jersey’s many blue-chip basketball recruits and gotten little out of the players who suffered through his full-court reenactment of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom—has demonstrated the limits of his skill and style. The videos, released in classic skeevy-Rutgers fashion by a disgruntled ex-employee, reveal the coach as a manic little bully given to shoving and screaming and verbally abusing younger people who he has power over and who he knows can’t and won’t fight back. Not at all surprisingly, this management style proved incapable of getting anything but weary, terrified obedience from those players. He’s an old, mean joke with a new face, in other words, if an exceptionally profane and unpleasant one. Rutgers was a similarly unfunny joke until they fired Rice early Wednesday, either 24 hours or three years later than they should have. Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, a smugly overmatched Young Republican-looking ex-TV executive, suspended Rice for just three games after seeing the video last season, perhaps not wanting to slow the momentum of a season that ended with 12 losses in the team’s final 15 games. He should probably be fired, too.


Here’s what’s going to happen, almost certainly, to Mike Rice: After the requisite cooling-down period and anger-management courses and perhaps a conversion to evangelical Christianity (it’s a stylistic choice, and a popular one), he'll probably be back in coaching, where he’ll start at some small school and try to work his way back up. Maybe he’ll even do what he never even came close to doing at Rutgers and lead a team to the NCAA Tournament. An announcer will, during a lull, mention that “we all remember” what happened to Rice at his last gig and then discuss his new approach and new success, at least until the whistle blows and the game starts back up.

But the problem is that we don’t remember, and Rice’s cornball bullying is a thing that unctuous foofs like Pernetti—and a college basketball culture that doesn’t even hide the creep-boner it gets from Tough Love Leaders like Rice and his more effective fellow defectives—allow to keep happening. College basketball’s cult of the coach reflects a host of dim, if not actively ugly biases, but the employment and tacit abetting of rage holes like Rice and the lazy-brained lionizing of the many Rice types who are fortunate enough to be better at their jobs finally just reflects, loudly and lividly, contemporary college sports’ worst and truest sin.

All the things that fans and commentators project onto the players, all the ways the players are sentimentalized and exalted or casually trashed and discarded—all of these are just ways to make the players something other than the vulnerable kids whose scholarships can be revoked more or less at will that they are. It’s tough to justify not paying these players a share of the revenue they generate, or not giving them health insurance for their sometimes horrific and always expensive injuries, or putting them alone in a gym with Mike Rice. When you think of them as young people bearing bruises from coach-hurled basketballs rather than numbered basketball units bricking midrange jumpers between commercials for credit cards and radical, paradigm-smashing DVR technologies. More to the point, we wouldn’t work for someone who treated us the way Mike Rice treated the players in his care, let alone let a person like that supervise our children. For all his failings, a coach like Rice does at least lay screechingly bare the NCAA’s craven central deceit: the idea that we’re somehow different from the kids who have to call a person like him their boss.


Previously: The Little Gulfy That Could