Violence and Homophobia on the Court: Why Mike Rice’s Actions Surprise This Rutgers Alum

I received an email from my alumni association today and before I opened it, I knew what it was going to say. I knew because video of the Rutgers men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, has been all over the everywhere for two days – video of him kicking players, dragging them across the court by their shirts, hurling basketballs at their heads and knees, calling them sissy, fairy, faggot. In short, he looked like an unchecked high school bully of the 80’s, except all grown up and in a position of power. Erick Murdock, former director of player development who was allegedly fired for reporting Rice’s abusive behavior, brought the video the attention of Tim Pernetti, Rutgers’s athletic director, during the Fall semester. 

At that time, Mike Rice’s punishment were fines and salary loss of $75,000, a three-game suspension and mandatory anger management classes. Many are criticizing this punishment as not enough. Not enough by a long shot. So Wednesday morning, only after the scandal garnered national attention, Mike Rice was fired. This is supposedly a joint decision between Pernetti and University President, Dr. Robert Barchi, according to Dr. Barchi’s full statement:

“Rutgers University has a long and proud history as one of the nation’s most diverse and welcoming academic institutions. Coach Rice’s abusive language and actions are deeply offensive and egregiously violate the university’s core values.

When video excerpts of basketball practices were reviewed last fall by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, he immediately notified me and sought the advice of internal and outside counsel. The university hired an independent investigator to look into this matter thoroughly. Based on the external investigator’s findings and recommendations, Tim and I agreed that Coach Rice should be suspended, penalized $75,000 in fines and lost salary, ordered to undergo anger management counseling, and put on notice that his behavior would be closely monitored. Tim Pernetti also made it clear to Coach Rice that there would be zero tolerance for additional infractions. Tim kept me fully apprised and I supported his actions.

Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability. He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University. Therefore, Tim Pernetti and I have jointly decided to terminate Mike Rice’s employment at Rutgers.”

It is worth noting that all of this was coming to a head as Rutgers was being invited to join the Big Ten, a move that could get them a ton of TV revenue and exposure that could draw high-performing and out-of-state students to the University.

Rutgers_Scarlet_Knights

Now that this information is public and infamous, both the University and the state government (Rutgers is a state university, so the government actually does have a say in how it’s run) are taking it very seriously. Pernetti apologized for his handling of the situation in his own statement:

“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. 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. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”

Democratic President of the State Senate Stephen Sweeney advocates firing Tim Pernetti, while a coalition of faculty on Rutgers campuses are calling for Dr. Barchi’s resignation (they claim he willingly and knowingly withheld information on Mike Rice).

Mike Rice, via The New York Times

Mike Rice, via The New York Times

We all know there’s misogyny in sports, even in educational settings. Steubenville proved that to us, as if we hadn’t felt it already. Sissy, fairy – these names, when used as slurs, are based in the idea that being feminine is equal to being less than. This kind of culture is a major factor in allowing a Steubenville to occur, and is something that every institution should be battling at every level.

We also know that athletics is a difficult place for the LGBT community – that’s why the Fearless Project by Jeff Sheng, which depicts out gay athletes on high school and college sports teams, needs to exist. That’s why allies have to publicly declare their support for their possibly gay teammates in the NFL – that support is not already implied.

And still, I am shocked that this happened. Not that they waited to fire him, not that there was an apparent cover up. I mean, I’m shocked at all those things. But I’m actually most shocked that this even happened. At all.

I graduated one year before Tyler Clementi committed suicide, so I was not on the Rutgers campus for the aftermath. But one Rutgers student, a member of the Rutgers LGBT community who wishes to remain nameless, let me know the palpable shift in what was okay and what was not after two classmates engaged in cyber-bullying Clementi by videotaping his sex acts and broadcasting them to other students. The unnamed Rutgers student said that everyone was just so angry the night of the suicide. He thought if either of the hate-criminals, the cyber-bullies, had set foot on campus that night, Rutgers would have turned into an angry mob.

After that, in many if not most circles, it was no longer okay to bully. It was no longer acceptable to use homophobic slurs, even where it had been previously. And while those kinds of words and actions are still prevalent (it is a college campus, after all, and Rome wasn’t built in a day), it became less acceptable to voice in public. Bullying was no longer something to be proud of – it wasn’t the LGBT community on the run or in hiding anymore, it was the bullies. Students and professors were angry, upset and changed. That same unnamed student said that Rutgers has made huge strides since Clementi’s suicide – that it’s one of the most accepting and welcoming campuses he’s experienced or heard of, and that bullying is, in general, not tolerated. Which is why I’m surprised at literally every single action Rutgers University has taken so far in the case of Mike Rice, who is nothing but a dangerous bully with a large paycheck. From Rice’s actual willingness to say those words and wing basketballs at players, to the idea that terminating him wasn’t an option at first, none of it makes sense to me. I know athletics and athletic culture is a hotbed for homophobia and misogyny, and that those two ingredients mixed together can create verbal and physical abuse. But given that Mike Rice is an island of douchebaggery in a sea of amazing people, I guess I truly believed that Rutgers culture would triumph over the darker parts of sports culture. And I sincerely hope it is that way in the future for my alma mater.

 

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” column exists for individual queer ladies to tell their own personal stories and share compelling experiences. These personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

Ali has written 272 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    Thank you, Ali, for posting this. As a fellow Rutgers alumna, I can definitely attest to the interesting dynamics of the LGBT community with the majority of the school before/ after the Clementi tragedy. I was there when the news of Tyler’s death broke, and my queers and I held each other and cried, and laid on the front steps of the Student Center with candles, and rioted, and screamed. There is a very deep hurt for what happened and an unspoken promise, at least from the people that were there that day, to do better. Tyler deserved better. We all deserve better.

    It would be naive to say it was that easy though. Homophobic slurs are embedded in the heteronormative dialect and people will always be mean. I hope this shift-change occurs before my children are grown, but even then another group will be marginalized and used as the butt of all jokes.

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    Hello, I am a long time lurker but needed to post.

    My name is Helene and I am currently a Junior here at Rutgers. I am also an e-board member for one of the queer clubs on campus that I helped establish (oSTEM). Note all of the following is purely my opinion.

    I feel that while there are many valid points in the article,but there also is one glaring oversight, and that is the positive changes the community is taking today. I was a freshman here when Tyler took his life, I talked to him, shook his hand. I cannot express to you the pain the community felt, not just the queer community, but the Rutgers community as a whole. However, please know that since then, myself, and the whole Rutgers community, have been learning from it. So many good things have come from that tragedy, but its unfortunate that such a tragedy had to be a catalyst for change. It opened up a lot of previously unacknowledged issues and forced some pivotal conversations.

    The abusive behavior of this coach is not condoned by the students from what I’ve seen nor the community as a whole. No one is fighting for him to keep his job. The problem seems to lie with those in power, who did not take the appropriate action. Some faculty are calling for President Robert L. Barchi’s resignation for how he handled the situation. We will see the outcome of that in time.

    That being said, the queer community and it’s acceptance and outreach has increased immensely, and the Social Justice program here is full of wonderful, incredible people, that constantly work to promote tolerance and give lgbtq youth here a safe space and resources. For example, we have Rainbow perspectives, and non-gender specific housing program designed to be a safe space for students. I was there for it start, and hope the program takes off. It counts as special interest housing, and there is a course that goes along with it, they delve into gender issues further.

    This month has been dubbed Gaypril, and there is an incredible amount programs going on throughout the month. On April 1st, at Gaypril Opening ceremony, artists Jujubee from RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lance Bass came to speak or perform, as well as other artists. Over 500 students attended, many of them allies. The positive reception is something that should receive positive press, and the Social Justice office should be praised. The environment was one of celebration and acceptance, of liberation and expression, there were tears, and there was laughter and it was such a welcoming experience. As a side note, there were even conversations beforehand about programs for queer athletes and how to promote tolerance and acceptance within this environment before this scandal came to light.

    Unfortunately, none of that makes the press. As president of a queer club on campus and an out lesbian there are always difficulties. There is of course homophobia on campus. With a campus so large you get a lot of everything, good and bad. But please know that the amount of change and positive energy and acceptance is overwhelming in some circles, and it is absolutely making a difference. Please don’t be so quick to paint all Rutgers students and faculty with the same brush. Change takes a lot of time, but it’s happening, and I am lucky enough to witness it and be a part of it.

    • Thumb up 2

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      I linked to Gaypril! I love Gaypril – it was much smaller when I was a student. I hear y’all had 500 people this year. It’s damn impressive.

      Also, I definitely don’t think the entire University or even most of them is anything like Mike Rice, nor do they condone his actions: “But given that Mike Rice is an island of douchebaggery in a sea of amazing people…” etc.

      I actually think the Rutgers community has made such strides – that’s why I’m so shocked this happened. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the video. Because not one human who exists at Rutgers is untouched by the open and accepting culture that’s fostered there, and I thought that would have included Mike Rice.

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        I didn’t see the Gaypril link, but I’m so glad it’s there!
        Things have been hectic so I haven’t been reading as frequently.

        I just want to make it clear that the community here at Rutgers is not so much at fault, not that you were saying it was. The press we’ve received since I started coming to school here is overwhelmingly… bad. Students here are fed up with the scandals. I commented to just give a more inside look at the amazing strides the community has made that were hinted at and to give some specific examples of the positive attitudes that have come about in my time here. I do want to thank you for taking the time to explore the issue in this article, and being positive about the community. It means a lot in the sea of horrible press.

    • Thumb up 7

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      hi helene! just popping in to say as someone who is in no way a part of the rutgers community, i totally didn’t read this article as a condemnation of you guys — in fact i finished up the article and thought, “damn, rutgers and the community sounds like they’re trying so hard to enact positive change — FUCK THIS ASSHOLE for not doing his part and hindering the community rather than helping it. so glad he’s gone.”

      so i just want you to know that i think your work is being recognized, and you should feel proud of being a part of making the important changes happen. the mainstream press may not care about the good stuff, but here at autostraddle we totally do.

  3. Thumb up 6

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    ali, thanks so much for this. i must be living under a rock and/or be really really really tuned out of the world of sports (likely both?) because i actually hadn’t heard about this until right now.

    i know it’s blasphemous in the world of old school journalism, but i find it SO important when people who have personal connections to a story write about them. i’m so sick of the idea of “unbiased reporting” or “personal bias” clouding a reporter’s ability to tell the story — your love for the rutgers community and your shock and sadness over this event totally enhanced the news story for me.

    i’m really glad rutgers fired this abusive bully dbag, and i hope the school (and all college campuses, and all sports arenas, and the whole goddamn world) keeps making strides towards being a safe campus for all students.

  4. Thumb up 4

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    I’ll be attending Rutgers in the fall and I’m really looking forward to finding queer community people (Gaypril? That sounds FANTASTIC).

    However it’s unsettling knowing the history of mistreatment of LGBT+ people on campus, whether it be student-to-student or authority-to-student.

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      Are you ready? Are you even ready? Rutgers is fantastic! It really is. I’m not saying I never had negative experiences (I did. Really negative ones centered around gay identity). But it’s so much better than so many other campuses in this respect.

      Please say you’re DRC. You will have all the gay. It’s fabulous.

      • Thumb up 1

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        Douglass? Yes! I’m actually doing an overnight there next weekend, I’m so excited!

        I was scared that it wouldn’t be gay friendly, but on the housing app there was a button request for LGBTQ+s! Do you know if they are trans* friendly? I tried to find out before registering, I don’t want to be a part of a women’s college that doesn’t welcome all women, but couldn’t find any info.

        Also, I’m kind of dying over a Rutgers alum writing for Autostraddle, it’s just so cool I can’t handle it. :D

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          Okay, so, I’m not really sure if they’re trans * friendly because I don’t know who was trans * and who wasn’t on campus, so I never asked them. That said, it woud really truly surprise me if they weren’t trans * friendly, and I think you should just march in there like they’re gonna be and they probably will be. If they’re not, Jenny Kurtz. Contact Jenny Kurtz with the Social Justice & LGBT Communities office. Home girl has got your back. I’d tell you to call the Dean ad set up a meeting, but I had the honors dean instead of the Douglass dean, and I actually don’t know who is dean of what where anymore. But the honors Dean on College Ave – her name is Muffin Lord. Like, actually, that is her name. And the director of pubic safety is called Kenneth B. Cop, because that is the only appropriate last name for an officer of the law. Basically what I’m saying is yes, they’re probably trans * friendly and also everyone has the best names and also HAVE FUN AT DOUGLASS!

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            Thanks for the list of awesomely named helpful humans; that’s good information to have in case someone I know needs it. I’ve met the Douglass dean (one of them at least) and her name is fantastic as well, but I can’t spell it without looking it up.

            THANK YOU :D

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      Congrats!! Rutgers is awesome. If you’re interested in living with queers only, you should check out Rainbow Perspectives or Demarest Hall. Also, I second what Ali said, DOUGLAS will change your life. Feel free to holler if you need some more Rutgers input!

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        Thank you! I’m enrolled at Douglass now. Living with only queers would be fantastic, but I’m not out to my parents and that housing choice would be SO not okay with them. I’ll make due with ladies only living :)

    • Thumb up 2

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      I’m most likely attending Rutgers in the fall! I’ve been a little apprehensive just because I didn’t know much about the queer community on-campus, but then I heard of Gaypril! It made the front cover of the Targum and I was so happy. Also, if I am at Rutgers, I’ll be at Douglass!

      But despite all that loveliness, it sucks knowing that this stuff still goes on.

  5. Thumb up 1

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    I think what breaks my heart is that I’m NOT surprised by any of this, nor this coach’s appalling and overinflated salary. It’s just all so sad.

    • Thumb up 1

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      I’ve been researching college coaches salaries for a fiction piece that I’m writing, and it is ASTONISHING what men’s sports programs pay, particularly football and basketball, but some other sports as well.

      The money wrapped up in men’s college sports is enormous. Coaches’ salaries alone would be the complete budget for two or three women’s sports. A lot of that is because of televised events and the money they bring in, but still. It’s not surprising that coaches have a lot of power at universities, and that administrators are willing to overlook stuff like this, given that sports are a powerful money-making enterprise for universities.

      It’s the reason that Penn State turned a blind eye to what was happening there for so long.

  6. Thumb up 0

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    Yes Steph, I remember reading recently that in quite a few areas that the men’s basketball / football coach at the local university is THE highest paid public position in that state. With so much money and other ancillary benefits tied to their men’s athletic programs many university administrators gravitate towards a ‘circle the wagons’ mentality which only exacerbates the problem. This in turn feeds an above the rules sense of privilege at various echelons within these men’s sports departments, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

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