On a normal day, Rutgers University would be thrilled to have LeBron James tweeting about its basketball program.
Tuesday wasn’t a normal day.
James was one of many sports stars using Twitter to condemn the actions of Scarlet Knights basketball coach Mike Rice after the release of a video showing his repeated abuse of players.
“If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I’m still gone whoop on him afterwards! C’mon,” James tweeted.
The video shows Rice throwing basketballs at the heads of his players, kicking and shoving them, and using homophobic slurs toward them.
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000 after seeing the video in November. On Tuesday, he told reporters he thought that was an appropriate punishment for what he called a “first offense,” even though the video was complied over three years. Then on Wednesday, Rice was fired.
“There’s going to be backlash anytime you deal with a situation like this,” Pernetti said. “I think that Mike is in the most difficult position of anybody because he is the focal point of the story. But I don’t think we could’ve spent any more time investigating the matter than we did.”
The outrage wasn’t limited to the basketball world.
“Rutgers AD has a serious cognitive issue if he could watch 15 sec of that tape and conclude ‘3 games and some $ should do the trick’,” tweeted former NFL star Desmond Howard.
The video was released to ESPN by former NBA player Eric Murdock, who served as Rice’s director of player development. Murdock left the program after his contract was not renewed.
“To witness that video and see your coach physically putting his hands on players, physically kicking players, firing balls at players at point-blank range, the verbal abuse, the belittling. Yeah, I was in total shock that this guy wasn’t fired,” Murdock told ESPN.
Murdock said that multiple players had left Rutgers because of Rice’s behavior, and the program has definitely struggled. In Rice’s three years as coach, the Scarlet Knights have compiled a 44-51 record, including 16-38 in Big East games. Their best Big East finish was a tie for 11th in 2011-12.
Next season, they will play in the still-unnamed conference built around the Big East’s football-playing members before moving to the Big Ten in 2014.
“WHY have so many College Coaches been allowed push,grab,choke & bully college athletes?!,” former NBA star and current ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose asked on Twitter after seeing the video. “The video of Rutgers HC Rice ABUSING players is APPALLING! He should be FIRED ASAP. I’m embarrassed for College Basketball.”