When Rutgers University officials fired Mike Rice for physically and verbally abusing his players, that didn't end Rice's coaching career. He's still creating playbooks and critiquing skills and telling the team at half-court to hustle. Only now his players are 12-year-old girls—members of his daughter's team in the Amateur Athletic Union girls basketball league.
Rice's explosive anger and violent self-expression was so serious that it caused not only his fall from college hoops grace, but also the forced resignation of the Rutgers athletics director Tim Pernetti; one of Rice's assistant coaches, Jimmy Martelli; and other members of the university's administration. And yet, he's running drills for tweens. What a fantastic message about sportsmanship for these kids!
Deadspin has a series of tweets from Hoopscritic's Brian Geltzeiler, who posted on Sunday that he was in contact with someone who was at a 7th-grade AAU game and incredulous that Rice was coaching a team.
SNYtv followed up on Deadspin's report, which included tweets from Geltzeiler saying Rice was "still acting like a mad man" and that he told one girl "I can't even look at you," and confirmed that Rice has been coaching the team since his dismissal from Rutgers. A source close to the team told SNYtv, "The team’s parents are fully behind Coach Rice and his instruction of their daughters."
Ahhh, the parents are fully behind him. So that should make it OK, right?
Wrong. And it's wrong for the same reason that Pernetti and the Rutgers University administration were wrong in allowing Rice to continue coaching the men's basketball team. What he did was abuse his position of power and endangered players who would have likely compromised their livelihoods if they were to report this abuse—they knew the institution tolerated Rice's actions, which even Rice admits were wrong. Even most of New Jersey thinks being fired from unleashing himself on grown men was the right thing to do.
So why is he still coaching young girls?
What message is AAU, Rice and especially the parents of these girls sending when they say it's OK to rant and rave, throw things at people's heads and bodies, push players, be homophobic and scream invective at any time, much less at people who have little or no recourse or power (as is the case in coach-player relationships). What does it say about people—these parents—that they can't tell one of their own to go take a break and get his shit together before being one of the principle influences for their daughters, particularly in these asymmetrical dynamics, particularly when it's male-female. And in sports, which—we're always told—are metaphors for life!
This isn't about forgiveness or the fact that we all make mistakes. Rice's mistakes appear to have been repeated again and again. His mistakes, in fact, pretty much brought down a significant segment of the Rutgers administration. And yet basketball as usual for the 12-year-olds?
As for forgiveness? That can happen even while asking him to hit the showers for a few seasons until he's learned some coping skills and gotten some perspective. Allowing Rice to continue coaching—not even a moment's pause from the AAU gig!—is about society (for these girls, their own parents) and what it tells young people about the levels of violence, unhinged rage and homophobia it will tolerate and from whom it will tolerate that violence, rage and homophobia.