Rutgers Player Abuse Creates Crisis Management Mess

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    Shocking footage shows the coach shoving, and throwing balls at player’s heads

    Rutgers University is facing major crisis management after a video showing men’s basketball coach Mike Rice hurling basketballs at players’ heads, shoving, yanking collars, and screaming homophobic slurs was broadcast on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” this afternoon.

    Video of Rutgers practices from the past two years was acquired by ESPN, which broadcast just seconds of what producers say is dozens of hours of damning footage:

    No surprise to Rutgers

    The thing that’s really going to make crisis management an uphill climb is that this comes as no surprise to the college. A thirty-minute video containing similar clips was shown to athletic department officials last year, but Rice received a $50,000 fine and a three-game suspension, essentially a slap on the wrist when it comes to college sports.

    Of course, the first reaction from athletic director Tim Pernetti was to dig himself a deeper hole, defending the lack of serious punishment, as well as insufficient disclosure, for, as he called it, the “first offense.”

    Well, if the ESPN footage is any indication, his first, second, third, and fourth chances have been used up as well. If any person walked up to another in the middle of the street and threw a basketball at their head, kicked them, or even grabbed them by their collar and pulled, they would be charged with assault. Why you would ever try to defend taking those same actions against young adults who are under your care is beyond us, and we’re sure the Rutgers PR department is sweating bullets right now.

    Send in the cleanup crew

    Already, media outlets across the country are calling for Rice to be fired, and a closer look to be taken at the entire Rutgers sports system. This isn’t going to blow over, the only way to put out the fire is for Rutgers to take action.

    Our advice? Clean house. Fire Rice, and fire Tim Pernetti, the director who allowed this abuse to go virtually unpunished and still continues to attempt to minimize its significance. That’s not enough, though. Rutgers will have to re-train its entire athletic staff and do so publicly enough to assure parents that this is indeed a safe place to send their children to school.

    Don’t sweep it under the rug

    College programs, just like any other organization, need to learn this lesson – you don’t sweep nasty business under the rug. No matter how well you think it’s buried, no matter how long in the past it may have been, it’s going to come out, and when it does you will look all the more guilty for having hidden things in the first place.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]