Every sports fan was outraged by the video of former Rutgers men's head basketball coach Mike Rice physically and verbally assaulting his players. Lebron James and New Jersey Gov. Christie spoke for most of the country when expressing anger and disappointment in the behavior of head basketball coach Mike Rice. As the video clip circulated, the national fury grew, and sports and news personalities as well as average fans began to call for Rice's job. Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti capitulated to the masses and decided to throw the coach to the bloodthirsty mob, hours after defending his original punishment -- which amounted to more or less a slap on the wrist. Still unsatisfied, the mob's pressure eventually claimed Pernetti's job as well. Ahh! Now all is right in college sports. The sports media and fans will, of course, spend the next several days satisfied and riding their morality high horse, believing "We rid college sports of a monster and an administrator, who exhibited poor judgment. Thanks to us, student-athletes are safe."
Congrats, never again will a kid get kicked in the ass by a head coach. Instead they will continue to be kicked in the ass by this corrupt system. I may be in the minority here, but I cannot join the cacophony of Rice haters. Granted, he has demonstrated a track record of unacceptable conduct. But if I complied a highlight film of the worst moments of any person's life, I am sure we all would be ashamed, even some of our most-admired citizens.
Let me be clear, I am far from a Rice apologist; the consequences he eventually met were just. But, you are fooling yourself if you believe that Rice stands alone (or even in a small fraternity) as the only coach exploiting his power. There may not be many coaches who use such overt abuse in wielding their power, but the attitude behind his behavior is more common than you may think. Maybe I am jaded, but I believe that all people are flawed and prone to take advantage of unchecked power, when they get the opportunity. While we at the NFLPA haven't created a perfect system of rules and checks on team and league power, we made great strides to address the abuses in our work environment. Our head coaches now operate under strict guidelines that protect our players' health in many ways. The players of the NFL have the union to ensure their rights are secured and our power comes from the players' willingness to collaborate. College athletes have no unified group looking out for their best interests and protecting the conditions under which they work. (Stay tuned for more from me on this topic--when the documentary "Schooled: The Shame of College Sports" comes out later this year.)
If I hear another idiot say, "I wouldn't take that from a coach; I would have thrown the ball back at him," It makes me want to scream. You know what happens to 18-year-old players who defend themselves? They get labeled as a "bad kid" that has a problem with authority and they don't get their scholarship renewed.
The system is such that all coaches have this unchecked power over players. So if you are still doing your victory lap because you think your outrage helped oust the one coach exploiting his power, STOP! The stakes are very high and the pressure on coaches is intense to have a winning team or at least a decent run in the post-season to just keep their job. We just watched one of the great tournament Cinderellas of all time, Florida Gulf Coast, have a fairy tale season complete with a "happy ending." Coach Andy Enfield takes a job at University of Southern California for more than 10 times what he was getting paid at FGCU. He leaves the Eagles players -- the young men who arguably have equal claim to his recent success -- behind with nothing, but a story to tell. Even the school has enjoyed the attention and money that comes with the athletes' success. I don't fault Enfield for taking advantage of the system and cashing in, but it is another example of the players, the only group with no power or voice, being slighted. Even if Enfield wanted to reward some of his best players with money or a scholarship at his new higher profile school, the NCAA rules wouldn't allow it.
Players on all college basketball and football teams sacrifice the full college experience and resolve to exist in this lopsided system because the allure of the elusive pro sports pay-off. Around 1 percent of varsity college basketball and football athletes actually make it to the pros. The rest leave school with an educational experience centered around athletic eligibility and practice and game schedules, which means "student-athletes" choose a major from drastically truncated lists of pre-approved paths, not based on competencies or interest. Maybe "athlete-student" would better represent the real priorities in play.
There was a third big college basketball story in the news last week that stirred the emotion of fans: Kevin Ware's gruesome injury. Everyone rightfully expressed sympathy for Kevin, including University of Louisville officials, who proclaimed Kevin and his family will not have to worry about paying the medical bills. Maybe Louisville leadership would have made that decision even if Kevin's injury wasn't so jarring and public. I would hope so. But there are no guidelines encouraging this behavior or even rules enforcing it. Curiously, there are NCAA rules that prohibit college athletes from profiting on their own likeness, but no rule that requires the institutions (that do profit from athletes' likenesses) to cover the immediate and more importantly, the long-term medical costs associated with injuries incurred while participating in practices and games. Like all basketball fans, I'm pulling for a full recovery for Ware. But who's to say how that injury will impact his health when he's in his 30s, or 50s or 70s? The regular wear-and-tear, or in some cases, the severe damage athletes face in college sports, has a long-term effect on their health. Concussions, joint replacements before 40, chronic pain -- none of that is considered in the "price of doing business" for college athletes.
Players risk so much, at such a young age, for an opportunity at that brass ring -- be it a college education, a championship title or a shot at the pros -- or all three. Maybe in your mind, allowing them to receive some part of the riches they create for so many coaches and institutions is a step too far. But if you think a college degree can heal the life-long ailments associated with head trauma, ligament tears and broken bones then you must think that the piece of paper is for rolling and smoking.
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