Baja, New Jersey

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

390-mike-rice4Watching the unfolding meltdown at Rutgers University this week you had to be struck by the full array of human weakness on display. Prompted in large measure by a disgruntled former employee (all truth seems to come out that way), the school was rocked when a compilation video surfaced showing three years of verbal, physical and mental abuse heaped on student athletes whose crime was winning a basketball scholarship and having the misfortune to play for Head Coach Mike Rice and Assistant Coach Jimmy “Baby Rice” Martelli.

 Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of an educational video that describes just how lucky those receiving a “free” college education really are:

In case you think this was merely aberrational conduct by these two “educators,” Ian Diatlo, a student manager for Rutgers during the 2011-12 season will disabuse you of that notion: “That was a very typical practice — this occurred like every practice.”

I couldn’t help thinking about Dan Jenkins’ 1981 novel, Baja Oklahoma, and his classic 10 stages of drunkenness. The story, set in 1950s Fort Worth, Texas, details the life and loves of hard-bitten, 40ish  barmaid, Juanita Hutchins, whose keeps the dream of writing country music alive even as she endures a hot-to-trot, drug addled daughter, a host of  sloshed suitors, and a lost love who provides the hope of salvation. Surveying her situation, Juanita develops her 10 stages of drunkenness:

  1. Witty and charming (part 1): This is after one or two drinks. The tongue is loosened and can yet remain in step with the brain. In the witty and charming stage one is likely to use foreign idioms and phrases such as au contraire in place of “No way, Jose” or “Bull -sheyet”
  2. Rich and famous: By the third drink, you begin mentioning that the little 380SL you’ve had your eye on down at the Mercedes place.
  3. Benevolent: You’ll buy her a Mercedes, too. It’s only money.
  4. Just one more and We’ll eat: a stall tactic
  5. To hell with Dinner Grizzard: Just one more and then we’ll eat!
  6. Patriotic: The war stories Begin
  7. Warm up the Enola Gay: “We would have won in ‘Nam, but…”
  8. Invisible: So this is what the inside of of ladies room looks like
  9. Witty and charming (part 2): You know, you don’t sweat much for a fat girl.
  10. Bulletproof: Bull-sheyet, gimme them keys, I can drive.

The lead-in to the firing/forced resignations of both coaches as well as up and coming Athletic Director Tim Pernetti seemed to exhibit all the charm of a Texas bar brawl. Seems cheap liquor and power  in the world of big time college athletics have a lot in common.

First, the witty and charming Pernetti, who once ran college football broadcasts for ABC,  views the video filled with basketballs thrown at players’ heads and homophobic taunts and then decides that walking down the hall with a pink slip in hand is too gauche for the ivy-covered walls of  the Piscataway campus and instead opts to  send it up the Human Resources/Lawyer ladder where it was destined to languish ia a wash of regulations, policy handbooks, and the  considered opinions of professionals whose contact with students is limited to bumping into them as they run intra-office memos to and fro.  The good lawyers and HR folks at Rutgers do what every organization faced with a crisis that’s not really treated as a crisis does: They hire an outside law firm to tell them not so much what is right, but what is legal. What comes back is hotly disputed with outside counsel claiming that they ok’ed the firing, but Rutgers internal counsel claiming the firing couldn’t be justified. By the way, Rutgers chief counsel “resigned” the other day, too.

Then comes the “Rich and Famous” part with AD Pernetti, a millionaire many times over and a superstar in the making for cajoling the Big Ten Conference to admit Rutgers to their sports empire and all the gold that entails, suspends Rice for three whole games and hits him with a $50,000 fine. A drop in the bucket really when compared to Rice’s $850,000 salary and the knowledge that Rice will collect a $100,00.00 bonus once the season is over.  And, of course,  the reason was not basketball booty but benevolence, you see:

“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of coach Rice,” Pernetti said in a statement. “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong.

Ah, human frailty caused by too much love of your fellow-man. It is the Achilles Heel of us all!

Then the stalling begins. Rice is forced out but an insider from the Rutgers Board of Visitors tells ESPN that Pernetti’s job is safe because, after all, he got us into the honey pot that Big Ten tv revenues truly is.  In reality, Pernetti knows the day after Rice’s firing that he is the next to go according to Tara Sullivan of The only question is whether to call it a resignation or a firing. All the while, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is sending unmistakable shots over the Rutgers bow like this doozy:

“It’s not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University.”

The flag waving wasn’t done yet either. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic) called Rice’s conduct “unacceptable not only at our state university, but in all circumstances. It is offensive and unbecoming of our state.”

Then Pernetti becomes invisible as  does Rutgers President Robert Barchi, saying more info will follow on Friday as the scandal reaches critical mass among journalists, politicians, and alums. On Friday, Pernetti is officially out and Barchi holds to his job by a thread. He does get a word of support from Christie and members of the Board but didn’t Pernetti get the same backing? Pernetti, ever the composed professional, tenders a resignation letter for the ages. Mildly blaming lawyers and HR professionals and the system  for the mess (amazing how little they sweat,too) , he professes his undying love for the university he’s sullied and rides off into the sunset for fund-raising and empire building opportunities elsewhere — with a $1.2 million NJ taxpayer-funded severance package, of course.

To close the loop, Rutgers President Barchi goes before a rabid press corps on Friday with the enlightening explanation that this was not a failure of human judgment but one of process. “There is no question that big-time athletics have some risks,” said Barchi, who has been on the job less than a year. “I didn’t expect to see them so quickly. … I regret that I did not ask to see the video when Tim first told me of its existence,because I am certain that this situation would have had a very different outcome had I done so.”

He might well have added, “ Bull-sheyet, gimme them keys, I can drive.”

Source:  NY Times; Huff Post

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

30 thoughts on “Baja, New Jersey”

  1. “…If every coach in the NCAA was fired for the language….”

    A) The coach wasn’t fired as much for his language toward the players, but for the physical abuse that accompanied the abusive language.

    B) “…there would be very few coaches left in the NCAA…”

    I see no problem with that.

  2. Having participated in DIVISION 1 athletics for five years, and having spent time coaching since, I can’t help but believe that people who weren’t athletes are blowing this all out of proportion. If every coach in te NCAA was fired for the language used in this video, there would be very few coaches left in the MCAA. If u were to compile a greatest hits, then almost any coach could be painted as a tyrant. I can think of 5 instances alone where my coach berated us and threw things at us, but we responded to his passion. It’s sports, not a tickling competition..

    D1 Players know what kind of coach they are getting when they go on recruiting trips. Some players need to be berated to perform, in fact, a player that I know on the current Rutgers team, says that the coach got him jacked up when he became intense and got nuts. He also speaks of the former coach as a father figure who he knew cared about him.

    As athletes, we seperate the game from real life, as do most coaches. It’s interesting to see how zero players have ever complained about the coach, even those from his previous positions. If an athlete felt abused, they’d speak up…but most respect a coach with passion and who is invested in their futue.

    Now the kicking of the student, that crossed the line but the balls and language are nothing crazy. Now I’m sure some individual will come on here and say that their coach was always respectful. That’s fine, but most coaches are not…and I’ve been around sports my whole life.

    1. Thank you Athlete for your post. I have the most regard for those who actually played the game and who participated in collegiate athletics since THEY are far better positioned than I or others are to know what is right or usual. I know that all the players knew what kind of coaching they would get before they arrived. Larry Bird knew full well what Bobby Knight was all about and he refused to play for him. So to say that these kids did not know about this kind of behavior and accept it as part of the bargin is absurd. Now whether or not specific actions cross the line is another topic.

  3. randyjet/RWL:

    In the crazy world of college sports whistleblower Murdock was fired for missing one hour of a PRIVATE basketball camp run by Rice. He missed the fateful hour because he wanted to be with his son at the high school camp where he could talk to the kids about the virtues of playing basketball. Quite the irony there.Murdock was a first round NBA pick from Providence. No wailing or gnashing of teeth about what to do. No restless nights deciding on the right course of action. No rehabilitation. Rice wanted him out so he’s out. No suspension, no counseling, nothing at all … except walking papers.

  4. Randyjet,

    Please read my attached pdf lawsuit document. They fired Mr. Murdock. Since they are all state employees, you cannot just simply fire a state employee without going through a certain set of rules, hearings, appeals, etc. This is one of the issues/reasons in Mr. Murdock’s case. See my attached pdf file. They didn’t even consult their counsel; they knew that they were in the wrong due to the fact that they were trying to settle with him after he was ‘wrongfully terminated’.

  5. I have to think that soon Mr Murdock will be surpassing Rice as one of the highest paid employees of Rutgers after this suit. I just hope it will come out of Rice’s pocket first, though I doubt it.

    As for the higher ups in this, I have to have some sympathy for their situation since they DO have to take the advice of their lawyers. When I was a union official, I had a big objection to the advice of our counsel in taking up the grievance for a person who was fired who was not a union member. Even though the crook was exactly that, and had been fired for good cause, we were advised that if we did NOT take up his case and spend lots of money on the whole process, then he could and would have a good case in court to sue us and cost us more money. Thus I can understand some reluctance on their part to fire him outright. On this blog which is sponsored by a lawyer and has many legal folks, I am rather dismayed that so many think that the advice of lawyers should be ignored in this case. One cannot say follow the advice of your lawyer, and then blast them for doing so.

    The other basketball coach who was FAR worse was Bobby Knight who did such things in public at games. He even threw chairs at the officials, not just players. He was so notorious that Indiana’s star basketball player, Larry Bird, one of the best all time players, refused to go to Indiana U and play for this abusive coach. So I think that the players were pretty well informed as to this coach’s style before they got there. Last time I remember, Knight still got a job at Texas Tech and may still be there.

    1. Randyjet,

      Bob Knight has been retired for about 4 or 5 years now. Tubby Smith is the new head coach for Texas Tech.

      Also, the AD Pernetti ‘follow the advice of counsel as reason for not firing Head Coach Rice’ was an excuse for attempting to cover the whole scandal up. Why not consult counsel before firing Mr. Murdock?

      1. Do you know that they did not? Plus a lower ranking member of the staff does not have the high profile of the head coach. I would be quite surprised if they did not consult their attorneys about firing Murdock, plus the fact that they did not fire him. They simply did not renew his contract, so I wonder if they needed to do that at all.

  6. It took them (white males AD Pernetti, Head Coach Rice, & the University President/Legal team) less than 72 hours to fire & start settlement ‘talks’ with former director of player development of men’s basketball (black male) Eric Murdock (now, those ‘talks’ have ended with a lawsuit being filed. See the following:

    However, it has taken them (mostly, the same people) more than 3.5 years to fire & payout the Head Coach & the AD (the report is that they may have to pay the head coach Rice $1.3 million, along with his bonus, & the AD Pernetti gets close to $1.7 million. See: And now the NJ State’s Attorney General & the FBI is investigating? Do I hear a lawsuit by the players who were abused? This is far from being over.

    On the other hand, I guess the old saying is true about black employees: First fired, Last to be hired?

  7. What I would not give to have been a campus police officer there and then. I would have hooked him up and booked him in jail for assault within moments after he struck those players. And it would have been especially delicious to have done so after after yelling gay hate language. If the victim would have told me he was gay I would have also charged the coach with felony malicious harassment.

    Of course, I wouldn’t have mentioned one word about my investigation of the coach prior to the arrest to any of my superiours or other officers due to the coverup potential. I didn’t need a sergeant’s permission to arrest any old schmoe for a run of the mill assault, the coach is no different in my book in that respect.

    What I learned in my former career was that if you had probable cause to arrest someone who had rank/status/position/connections in the county, filing reports and sending information just gave the powerful and connected a means to escape their responsibility because the system protects them. It does this by endless “investigations” and dithering by too many people trying to make or ignore the problem in the hope that it will go away.

    Arresting and booking these folks forced the issue to the forefront within the courts and pre-empted any shady dealings that may crop up. Plus, it was not easily retracted by a sympathetic official or prosecutor. And, it is what ordinary people go through when they commit crimes and are caught.

  8. I guess if youre a student athlete you can’t be assaulted by your coach only trained and educated.

  9. Those kids were not “Man Enough” to kick that guys arse for the assaults that he made on them. Since he is now fired, maybe an alumn can find him on the streets and whip him good. Darn punk.

  10. Gene,
    good point about assault and battery. This coach appears to be guilty of that on multiple occasions. Why isn’t he charged criminally?

  11. Speaking of coaches who act like this, I’m not sure why we don’t see more stories about coaches getting the snot beat out of them by players or simply (preferably) arrested for assault and battery. If you have to emotionally and physically abuse your players to “get the lesson across”, you aren’t a coach or a teacher. You’re a thug and you deserve to be treated as such.

  12. if I remember correctly, even crazy old Captain Ahab kicked sailors with his wooden leg so it would not be personal.

  13. Any administrator in his or her right mind, after seeing that video, who does not immediately fire that coach, should be fired on the spot as well. The President who says he didn’t look at the entire video should have been fired. This type of behavior is unacceptable at any level. I want to know how many Rutgers employees who were discharged or terminated for cause were given a severance package that is probably worth more than a years salary and benefits? Christie should have that severance plan investigated.

  14. And we wonder why we sometimes see bullying, violent acts or domestic abuse from athletes or even from other people who were subjected to this kind of treatment (as if it’s normal) in their high school and/or college sports programs but didn’t pursue athletics as a career.


    I think you’re trying to remember Bobby Knight.

  15. What was that coaches name from Indiana? I guess so long as you are winning its of, until you cross that line.

  16. I played sport (badly) as a kid. I don’t think the majority of coaches I had were as bad as what I saw but a lot of them had moments like this and made playing miserable for bad athletes. You would think that would make me happy he got fired but it doesn’t for two reasons.

    the first is relatively insignificant because I don’t think the culture of big time sports in this country. I think the guy deserved to have his errors pointed out to him, get help in correcting them and given the chance to prove he could do better. Anyone can make mistakes particularly under the sorts of pressure we put on coaches to win at all costs. The fine & suspension were a start, he should have gotten counseling and been monitored after that.

    But the big reason is that D-I sports are evil. They are a system designed to chew up young men and (to a lesser extent because of the money) women for the profit of sponsors. I doubt you will find many D-I coaches who do not treat players badly when they feel they need to. Firing one guy allows everyone to pretend the problem was discovered and corrected. It has not been. This guy was just a symptom, the disease rolls merrily along.

  17. “… I regret that I did not ask to see the video when Tim first told me of its existence …”

    Resistance and denial of the obvious reality on video.

    That is the driving dynamic in public policy today in way too many places.

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