When I was in elementary school and having trouble with my multiplication tables, my father used a simple motivational technique: He smacked me in the back of the head with his hand. When I started to cry, he offered these tender words: “Sissy! We’ll put pink ribbons in your hair!” Then he smacked me again.
I thought of Dad last week when I heard about the dismissal of Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice. Rutgers President Robert Barchi fired Rice April 3 after viewing a video, compiled over a period of a year from recording of practices, in which Rice was seen both physically and verbally abusing players and using homophobic slurs to describe their play. Rutgers officials had been made aware of the videos in November but, rather than fire Rice, chose to suspend him for three games and fine him $50,000. The dismissal came only after the videos were made public by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
Public reaction after the announcement of Rice’s firing was swift and, mostly, predictable. People denounced Rutgers officials for having taken so long to act. People condemned Rice as having “crossed the line.” On local sports talk radio, former players came forth to say that such treatment is commonplace in sports. A few defended Rice. Sports is tough, they said. Being bullied, pushed, kicked, hit with a ball and being called “faggot” is all part of a strategy that produces better players.
I can only ask: If this be true, why not chain players to a post and whip them? It supposedly did wonders for productivity at Southern plantations.
More troubling than the defense of Rice by former players is the logic rolled out by those who said such coaching tactics are commonplace. Ah! The old “everybody does it” defense. Remember how well that defense worked when your mom countered with, “And if everybody jumped off the bridge, would you?” It’s still indefensible. Ubiquitousness does not justify an odious practice.
Even more puzzling was the veiled suggestion by one talk show host that the incriminating video was leaked by former Rutgers assistant coach Eric Murdock not because it contained abhorrent “motivational” techniques, but as revenge for Murdock’s having been fired for blowing the whistle on Rice. Maybe it was revenge. But that doesn’t excuse Rice’s actions.
The same host also said that Murdock had compiled the video from many recorded practices. “Put all together, it looks worse than it is,” he said. Yeah, right. And the Nazis killed 6 million Jews in just over six years, but it looks much worse put into a one-hour PBS special.
And I have to ask: Exactly why, in 2013, is it still commonplace to “motivate” athletes, employees or elementary school children by calling them sissies, queers and faggots? Oh, I know: If we can’t stop “them” from destroying the family unit, at least we can prevent their kind from tainting the purity of collegiate and professional sports.
It’s time for me to admit something. I come before you today a master of multiplication – thanks largely to the invention of the pocket calculator. My dad’s motivational techniques did nothing to improve my math, just as his forcing me to wear a crewcut until I was 17 did nothing to stop me from growing my hair long as soon as I was 18. Just as his insistence that I would never make a living as a musician did nothing to deter me from making a living as a musician for 25 years.
In fact, Dad’s use of physical and verbal abuse as a parenting tool did only one thing. It made him a jerk.
Just like Mike Rice.