National Columnist

Are there more coaching monsters like Mike Rice in college hoops?


They're telling me fired Rutgers coach Mike Rice isn't the only one. They say he's not the only monster running amok in college basketball, verbally abusing his team and then making it physical by shoving players, even bouncing basketballs off their bodies.

That's what they're telling me -- regular people, I mean. Not athletes, not coaches. Just readers and sports fans, on the message board below stories here about Rice and also on Twitter, where fans have a direct line to me, you, or almost anyone they want to lecture. And they're lecturing me that Mike Rice isn't alone, isn't the only bully on the block, and they say that to me not mournfully but defensively.

Leave him alone. Like he's the only coach who does this ...

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Was it you, lecturing me? Hope not, for your sake. And for your children's sake. Then again, if anyone thinks Mike Rice deserves even a modicum of defending, I'm thinking you're not a parent. And I'm hoping you never become one, not if your idea of "coaching up a kid" is to call him homosexual slurs and throw a basketball at his feet, then his knees, and finally his head because the feet-and-knees throws didn't teach that dummy where to rotate on defense. Would you accept that if it were done to your kid? No? Then don't accept it when it's done to someone else's.

Bullying isn't just bad. It's evil. There are levels of evil, so please don't tell me Jerry Sandusky is true evil and Mike Rice is no Jerry Sandusky, because that implies we should give a free pass to pretty much everyone else.

Monsters comes in all shapes and sizes. So does evil. And bullying is evil, wherever it happens. When a big, stupid fifth-grader terrorizes a smaller kid in class, that's evil. Maybe that big, stupid fifth-grader will grow out of it, maybe not. But that smaller kid he terrorized? He'll always remember. He'll be scarred, because being made to feel helpless is one of the emptier, lonelier feelings on this planet. You don't forget it.

Know how some people medicate that feeling of emptiness, loneliness? They turn to drugs or alcohol. They cut themselves.

They kill themselves.

Three years ago at a major college in the Northeast, a student was bullied by a roommate who set up a webcam in their dorm room, taped the victim kissing another man and aired it on the Internet. The roommate -- the innocent one, not the evil one -- killed himself. That's how he responded to being bullied.

That major college in the Northeast? That was Rutgers.

The place that employed* Mike Rice.

Having a basketball thrown at your head isn't the same as being outed on the Internet. I get it. But bullying is bullying. One person's helplessness doesn't feel any less helpless because others have it worse.

(*The athletics director at Rutgers is a spineless man named Tim Pernetti who in November watched a portion of the infamous video released this week by ESPN and decided Mike Rice should continue to represent Rutgers athletics. The president at Rutgers is a spineless man named Robert Barchi who also watched that video in November and decided Mike Rice should continue to represent the largest public university in New Jersey.)

Rice has been fired, but you're telling me he isn't alone, that other college basketball coaches do the same stuff. And truthfully? I believe you're right. I have a cockroach theory on people like this -- that for every Mike Rice we see, there are a hundred we don't.

So I believe there are more monsters out there, and it doesn't take more than a little empathy to understand why they get away with it. Bullying is an abuse of power, like domestic violence or sexual harassment. One side has all the power, which means the other side has none of it. When that imbalance of power occurs -- and it occurs every day, in workplaces and homes around the country -- the only thing between a safe and unsafe environment is the benevolence of the person in power.

Most of the time, in most workplaces and homes, benevolence reigns. But sometimes you get a parent or spouse or boss or coach like Mike Rice, a man who holds in his hand the future of his players -- and uses that power to be a monster. Why do players, even gigantic ones who play college basketball in the Big East, let him get away with it?

It's the power. Players know the coach controls their practices, their playing time, even their scholarship. And that helplessness eats away at a victim until he isn't thinking straight. Transfer? I can't transfer. Mike Rice will call my next coach and tell him I'm soft or stupid or a trouble-maker in the locker room. I can't play anywhere but here, because Mike Rice won't let me go.

That's why none of Rice's players went public. They were afraid. They weren't thinking clearly. They were bullied.

The same sort of thing happened two years ago at Holy Family University, a Division II school in Philadelphia where coach John O'Connor was caught on tape striking a player to the ground and running up to his prone body with the apparent intention of kicking him before finally coming to a semblance of his senses and settling for a foot shove. The player reportedly was bleeding. O'Connor resigned.

Two years later, John O'Connor is an assistant coach at Lafayette. Is he still bullying kids? Was that a one-time explosion? My cockroach theory says no, it was not, but I have no idea. I tried to get O'Connor on the phone but he wouldn't talk to me. His sports information director wouldn't even ask him, telling me O'Connor had made it clear when he was hired that he wouldn't answer questions about Holy Family. So I tried another way, and asked one of O'Connor's non-coaching friends to relay my request. The request was relayed. O'Connor said no.

So I tried, but the guy who had the gumption to strike down one of his players didn't have the nerve to pick up a phone and talk to me.

Mike Rice was one. John O'Connor was another. Is there a third?

You know there is. Cockroaches multiply.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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