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April 5, 2013

COMMENTARY: Slate - The basketball bully

The firing Wednesday of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, for shoving players around, firing basketballs at them and screaming that they were "faggots" and "fairies," reflects universal condemnation. Once ESPN aired a video showing Rice's abusive style during practice, players, sportswriters and even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rose up. As NBA star LeBron James tweeted, "If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I'm still gone whoop on him afterwards! C'mon."

Rice always acted like a jerk on the sidelines — yelling at his players and at the refs and generally behaving like a jackass. But while that behavior had long been tolerated if not celebrated, his off-court actions clearly crossed the line of acceptability. Rice himself told reporters gathered outside his home, "I will at some time, maybe I'll try to explain it, but right now, there's no explanation for what's on those films. Because there is no excuse for it. I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who's believed in me that I'm deeply sorry." Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti is facing calls for his own firing because he saw video of Rice abusing players and shouting slurs before it went public and yet suspended the men's coach for only three games. The Newark Star-Ledger reported as far back as December that "an internal investigation" found Rice had used slurs and thrown the ball at players' heads.

In other words, the authorities knew, and they didn't stop it, not until denunciations came raining down from outside the school's gates. Is this how it has to be — a clearly abusive coach only gets fired when his transgressions get aired on television?

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