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. This is so awful what this coach did! Sounds to me like this guy better lawyer up! A good lawyer is super important in times like this! I recenlty hired to help me with my case and they did an amazing job!

  2. Elaine,
    I agree that many scholarship athletes won’t speak up against the coach because they can lose their scholarships very easily.

  3. Athlete,

    “If an athlete felt abused, they’d speak up…but most respect a coach with passion and who is invested in their futue.”


    I doubt many scholarship athletes would speak up. Coaches like this man aren’t invested in the futures of the members of their teams–they are invested in themselves, their own egos, and their teams’ records. I think you mistake abuse for passion. One would hope that a coach who is “passionate” about his sport would be able to express his passion in a less negative way.

  4. It would seem ignorance about sports is epidemic. Here’s a clue: These are the kind of abusive redneck bastards who commonly coach sports and torture their players at EVERY level, from peewee to the pros.

    Yeah, it’s true.

  5. This behavior goes on and is tolerated because college basketball, like college football is huge money and an extension of the corporate sports industry. If cattle prods would make the players run faster or jump higher they would probably be in use and everyone in authority in the school and the industry would be turning a blind eye. The money for both the school and industry virtually compels the abuse of the players as a way to get the job done.

    Players are abused in many ways and Chris Hayes did a great piece on what happens to injured college players once they are no longer useful to the school or industry. He calls for compensation, literally employment contracts and that seems long overdue.

  6. The “language” rises to assault. The pushing and throwing b-balls at them rises to battery. Those are two related offenses that the second usually follows the other. But it is good to be precise. The jerk did assault and batter humans in the video. We would have whipped him good in my high school days. Back when I was a human. Us dogs take this apCray from certain bad humans every day. If our dogpac sees some guy abusing his pets we go back in the dark of night and poop in his yard.

  7. Athlete:

    “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..”


    You responded alright. Like some people subjected to on-going abuse you grew to love it, think it normal, and bought the lie that is was for your own good. Thank you for Exhibit A of the Stockholm Syndrome or for revealing some variation of the warped machismo world college athletics creates. I’ve played sports on an intercollegiate level and coached everything from high school to rec league for 17 years. You’ll be happy to know that I never encountered this kind of tinpot dictator on the field and wouldn’t subject my own kids or anyone else’s to this kind of abuse. When you break free from your jock mentality give me a ring. We’ll talk about how silly you were and how dangerous you would have been when it came to coaching your kids.

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