Video, Rutgers and Leaders Gone Wild

At what point is it not OK for an employee to utter these words to people he’s managing:

“You f—ing fairy; you’re a f—ing f—-t.”

And at what point is it not OK to:

Shove and kick the people you’re managing?

The answer: when it’s caught on videotape. That’s when it becomes really Not OK.

Such is the most recent crisis coming out of Rutgers University, where basketball coach Mike Rice was caught on video uttering homophobic comments and physically attacking his players during practice.  Though Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and possibly others knew about both the video and his coach’s behaviors, the penalty was a 3-game suspension in December and a $50,000 fine. It wasn’t until ESPN aired the video on April 2 that the school has begun considering stiffer penalties, and today (April 3) the university fired Rice.

This is the same NJ state university at which a freshman jumped off the GW Bridge in September 2010 after his roommate videotaped sexual activities with another man in his dorm room. And the same university at which a former basketball coach had his players strip naked if they missed free throws during practice. So Rutgers is no stranger to crisis.

Should we be thankful that there are now video recorders to catch the behavior of leaders gone wild? Or should we be appalled that senior executives turned a blind eye to abhorrent actions by an employee? Yes, the coach is an employee, a term rarely used when referring to sports leaders.

Had ESPN not aired the video, would Rutgers have swept this under the rug? It appears that Rice’s boss took action back in November to help Rice (read: avoid a public crisis) by putting him in an anger management course and briefly suspending him.  But if another employee at Rutgers – let’s say the admissions officer or a dining hall manager, had uttered those damning words or kicked a colleague – most likely that officer or manager would be fired immediately.  Double-standard? Yes.

It is not surprising that the student players didn’t file formal complaints. It is not surprising – though it is disappointing from a crisis management perspective – that Rutgers officials didn’t take the story to the press before the press took the story to us. With so many players and team assistants witnessing the coach’s behavior, only a rookie would think that the story would stay on the basketball court.

— Diane Schwartz