Why Did Rutgers Wait to Fire Coach After Anti-Gay and Abusive Actions

Rutgers University’s decision to fire basketball coach Mike Rice today for anti-gay slurs and physical abuse of players is too late. University President Dr. Robert Barchi and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti should have fired Rice on the spot in November when they learned of his actions, especially since both actually viewed them at that time in a series of video clips.

Instead, they suspended him for three games, fined him $50,000 and sent him to anger-management classes. They only fired him after ESPN aired the video, which went viral and prompted demands for Rice’s firing from everyone from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin to basketball star LeBron James.

DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, a member of the Rutgers Board of Trustees and of the Rutgers Board of Governors Standing Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, said he was never informed about Rice’s anti-gay slurs or the fact that the video existed. He said he had been told there was a disciplinary issue, which was addressed with the suspension. DiversityInc General Counsel and Senior Vice President, Transformation Practices Lora Fong also is a member of the Rutgers Board of Trustees and also was uninformed about Rice’s specific transgressions.

“Had I known what he said and did, I would have urged Rutgers to fire him on the spot,” Visconti said.

One of the clips was broadcast on ESPN’s Outside the Lines last night. It was part of a series of clips compiled by retired NBA player Eric Murdock during practices from 20102012. Murdock was Rice’s Director of Player Development. All of the video, demonstrating prolonged verbal and physical abuse of players and frequent use of the anti-gay slur “f—-t,” were shown to Pernetti in November.

In a statement issued today, Barchi took responsibility for not initially firing Rice:

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.

Pernetti separately issued a 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.

Public Values

The issue of being inclusive is critical to Rutgers’ public image, especially after the very public September 2010 suicide of gay student Tyler Clementi and the subsequent trial and publicity about bullying and invasion of privacy.

As Visconti has stated in his Ask the White Guy column, “Credibility received for your professed values is dependent on your decisive execution of actions based on your values. This does not preclude empathy and forgiveness for mistakes, but values cannot be parsed without exposure to repercussions.” He also notes that in this age of transparency, an organization cannot EVER think it can hide offensive actions.

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