Editor's Note: Rutgers fired Mike Rice on Wednesday.
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They say they understood the drama-queen drills. They knew why their coach threw tantrums that would make a toddler cringe. They saw the point behind basketballs hurled directly at their heads and knees.
Somehow, Rutgers coach Mike Rice convinced many of his players that they were soft and they needed him to make men of them. So he showed them what the opposite looked like.
The videotape from Rutgers practices that aired on ESPN Tuesday revealed a preening coward. Rice kicked people dependent on him for scholarships. He screamed slurs at them. He had all the power on that practice floor, and he used it in the laziest manner possible.
"I did not have a line of players and coaches out my door or anybody else complaining about the matter," athletic director Tim Pernetti said, trying to explain to ESPN's Jeremy Schaap why he considered a three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine sufficient punishment after he first saw Rice's bloopers reel last fall.
But why would he expect the players or Rice's underlings to speak up? The athletes couldn't risk confrontation unless they were willing to transfer. Most of them had probably already compromised their ambitions by coming to Rutgers, which hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and playing for this parody of Bob Knight. They'd put up with a lot to avoid downsizing their hoop dreams again.
So the raging wimp had a captive audience and an enabling boss.
What should become of Rice now is hashtag-inspiringly obvious. Pernetti? If the athletic director stays, he'll need to take a remedial math course. He kept referring to the video evidence as a first offense even though it contained multiple scenes of the coach abusing his players over a two-year period.
The biggest concern should be the players' Stockholm syndrome reactions to Rice's tactics. They need deprogramming, preferably a public variety that reverberates through the sport, warning coaches who might work right up against the border that Rice crossed.
The most galling part of the tape may be the sense of entitlement evident in Rice's body language whenever he physically attacks a player. He doesn't hesitate a bit. There's no filter between his emotional reaction and the moment of indulgence, no pause to suggest that, like a thoughtful parent about to mete out punishment, he is doing something unpalatable that he considers necessary. He's the coach, dammit, and he can do as he pleases.
Players need to hear that they are not weaklings for refusing to accept that behavior. The generation represented on the Rutgers team could easily have been led to believe that Rice embodied old-school values and that only a coddled upbringing prevented them from embracing his abuse like hearty Marines in boot camp.
All they needed as a counterpoint to that was some understanding of his contract. Old-school coaches didn't make $700,000 a year. Some of them even got by on five figures. As a coach of this era, Rice has been more spoiled than his players could possibly be.
Seven past and present members of the team spoke on the record to ESPN.com, and most of them defended Rice. But one former player illustrated the complicated expectations these athletes have of themselves and why those expectations might persuade them to tolerate insufferable bullying.
Tyree Graham conceded that Rice had "crossed the line" at times, but said he understood that the coach wanted to make the team tougher.
"I was brought up like that," he told ESPN. "Coming from Durham, North Carolina, you have to have that chip on your shoulder. If you don't, you're not going anywhere."
But that's a general endorsement, not specifically protective of Rice, yet also distancing himself from outsiders who can't understand the demands made within a team's sanctum. At the same time, he dropped fat crumbs of dissent about Rice's methods, obliging us to follow the trail.
"I can't say it got results," Graham said. "It didn't work. If those tactics don't work, it should stop."
Graham's diplomacy was extraordinary. He gave us what we needed to know, and offered implicit support for the two players who went on the record about the distress that Rice's abuse caused them. (Both have transferred.) But he also supported the coach's prerogative to challenge players aggressively. If Rice communicated half that well, he wouldn't need to resort to vicious buffoonery.
But he is -- let's just say it -- impotent. Not simply abusive, cruel or bigoted or anything that prompts finger-wagging. He is impotent. He is the very weakling he hopes to roust from his players' innards. They need to know that, to hear that we find his behavior more than despicable. We find it pathetic.