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How to Win

Why I Can’t Condemn Mike Rice

Comic legend W.C. Fields once bragged about his role in a fight with a character named Chicago Molly.

“He knocked her down … but I was the one who started kicking her.”

This line from the movie “My Little Chickadee” explains why I can’t condemn Rutgers Coach Mike Rice.

It’s not that what Rice did was OK. It’s just that he’s so easy to kick right now.

Rice, fired today as men’s basketball coach after a video surfaced of him physically and verbally abusing his players, has attracted the venom of everyone from talk show callers to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

He’s getting hung in effigy and burned as a witch. Everyone gets to cast a stone. Everyone gets to feel righteous. I’m doing it right now, getting righteous about other people feeling so righteous. See?

There’s a word for this: mob. And mobs are ugly. They get their taste of blood, but the underlying issues remain.

For instance, now that Rutgers has fired Rice, what will the school do about its own culture? Seven years ago Rutgers cut six sports in the name of cost-cutting, only to spend $102 million on a stadium renovation and $2.3 million on salary for former football coach Greg Schiano.

Thirteen months ago, when Schiano left for the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Star-Ledger published a list of the perks he had received. Among them were $580,000 for a state-of-the-art synthetic field and unlimited use of a helicopter and corporate jet for university business.

If only a viral outcry had risen up to protest this use of money! Instead Rice takes the fall.

Not only am I afraid of mobs, I also shy from condemning Rice because I, too, am an imperfect coach. I cringe when thinking of the day when, one-on-one with an athlete, I listened impatiently to her tale of trouble at home, then proceeded with my own agenda — to tell her she was being demoted to the junior varsity. Thank goodness there is no video of that!

Rather than kick Rice when he is down, I want to use this episode as a self-check. What is my role in the gym? How do I affect the people I am coaching? What will they remember about this experience long after they’ve forgotten the scores?

Said W.C. Fields: “No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we’ll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries.”

I hope Rice finds some, and gets the chance to use it.


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