Last week the news was a buzz with the now-disgraced basketball coach at Rutgers University, Mike Rice, who was fired for physically assaulting and verbally abusing his players. As the story played out, we learned that Rice’s actions were known by college officials. He was fined and disciplined by his immediate supervisor, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.
Pernetti was “encouraged” to resign after University President Robert L. Barchi, who initially approved the AD’s suspension of Rice for three games in December and fined him $50,000, chose to dismiss Rice after he finally viewed the tapes himself, just prior to the Rice dismissal announcement and the public release of the tapes.
We’ve also learned that the FBI is now investigating whether Eric Murdock, a Rutgers assistant coach whose practice videos led to the entire issue reaching the light of public opinion, tried to extort funds from the university.
In a New York Times story a December letter written by Murdock’s attorney, demanding $950,000, was obtained by ESPN and released last Friday. The money was sought as a settlement of Murdock’s wrongful termination claims, the letter said. Rutgers declined to settle the claim.
Murdock subsequently released Rutgers’ practice video, which was aired and showed the verbal and physical abuse of players on the part of Rice.
Like other stories we’ve seen in the past, the actions seems to follow an all too often pattern be it corporate, academia, religious or government culture. The playbook calls for damage control and plausible deniability by senior management. The hope seems to be — contain the story, put up a stone wall and try to move on. Once it’s apparent the story will become public, plan B is to attempt to get ahead of the breaking story by taking very definitive public action, designed to quell public outrage and establish a fire break to protect senior management and the institution. Sometimes it’s enough and other times this action backfires, making the situation worst.
It’s unfortunate that public opinion and media exposure is required to get to the truth behind these incidents. It is perhaps situations like this and the many that have played out before this event that cause the general public to be so skeptical and distrustful of these large organizations. We’ve learned over time that paramount is the institution’s image, as well as the survival and rehabilitation of the personnel involved, shielding the truth and ultimately causing even greater damage to the institution and further public mistrust. We can only assume these cover ups must work in most cases; otherwise, why would these lofty institutions continue down this destructive path which, once in the public arena, is generally far worse than dealing with the initial issue?
The real problem is getting these institutions to live up to the high moral standards by which they supposedly operate. Like the child who is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, it would be nice to know they are honorable enough to own up to the offensive action first rather then after the denial process.
College sports are big money and have become powerful institutions unto themselves … and in some cases almost as powerful as the university. Whenever you have big money and power involved, we frequently see these efforts to say one thing and do something very opposite.
We know power and money are corruptive forces and perhaps there is no way around this deceptive behavior, but continued events like these only tend to reinforce this type of “succeed at all cost” behavior and certainly sends the wrong message to a society that deserves truth and transparency above all else.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.