Don’t Blame Mike Rice

3 Apr

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, has had its share of unwanted national attention in the past few years. First, the Don Imus scandal in 2007, where the radio personality labeled the women’s basketball team with racist language. (I am not going to repeat his inexcusable phrase here; if you do not know this history, use your favorite search engine.)

Next, in 2010, the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student cyber bullied by his homophobic roommate. Now, 2 months after Rutgers and the Tyler Clementi Foundation announced the creation of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers, we learn of another case of homophobic behavior, this time by the Rutgers men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice.

What may surprise you is that in all 3 instances, while not approving of the behaviors, I do not really blame the perpetrators. The racism, sexism, and homophobia that is institutionalized and permitted to continue in this country are to blame. Every one of us who remains silent when hearing a slur, a supposed joke, an outright case of discrimination, is to blame. If silence is approval, many of us are, in effect, Mike Rice.

I coached basketball for several years in Western Fairfax County, VA. I first got into coaching after attending a practice with my then 10-year old stepson and hearing the coach tell the players they were “playing like girls.” When that coach told those impressionable youngsters that they were “playing like girls,” it made my blood boil. All I could think was we did not need another generation of misogynistic men. Little did I know just how bad it was until I started coaching the following season.

A few of the other coaches were cordial, a few ignored me, and several were downright nasty, especially so because my team WON. (You should have heard it the season we won the championship!)  I believe in any environment, every person can contribute something; everyone can do at least one thing well. During tryouts, I was at a disadvantage because I had not seen most of the players play before. Instead of focusing strictly on tryout performance, I also looked at a) how well a player got along with others, b) what kind of language came out of the player’s mouth, and c) what kind of language came out of the parent’s mouths.

I could hear coaches screaming at their players during timeouts, “We are not gonna lose to a team coached by a WOMAN!” At practices, I would see coaches be physically and mentally abusive to players. After we beat one team, the coach made the players wear dresses to the next practice to punish them for losing to a female coach. The parents surely knew this and somehow thought it was acceptable.

The most egregious behavior I witnessed was when one 15 year old punched the teeth out of another, and did not get suspended or kicked out of the league. It seems the league was afraid the parents would sue for his loss of opportunity.

So, I don’t blame Mike Rice. Youth coaches get away with everything except murder, although the majority do not act this way. This crap doesn’t fall from the top down; it stretches from the lowest levels UP. If more parents knew what was really going on at practices, perhaps this behavior could be abated.

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