10 Questions Rutgers Officials Need To Answer Right Now

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 3, 2013 – 9:50 am

By now, you may have already seen the hidden video of Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice physically assaulting his players. The video quickly went viral after airing on ESPN yesterday.

After watching this video, there’s no doubt in my mind that Rice should be fired. Immediately. (Editor’s note: Rice was fired shortly after this story posted.) He probably should have been fired when Rutgers officials first learned of the video last November. But Rice may be somewhat irrelevant at this point, assuming he will be fired in the next few days.

What’s much more relevant is the failure of the officials at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, who knew they had a problem on their hands and failed to take appropriate action. (They suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000, and ordered him to take anger management classes. That’s more than nothing, but not commensurate with the seriousness of his infractions.)

Below, you’ll find ten questions I’d pose to the president and athletic director of Rutgers right now. If I was their media trainer, I’d insist that they develop credible answers to all 10 of these questions before doing any interviews.

  1. 1. What did you know, and when did you know it?
  2. 2. In December, you decided to suspend Mr. Rice for three games. Why didn’t you feel that his firing was warranted at that time?
  3. 3. If calling players “fucking faggots,” physically assaulting them, and throwing basketballs at their heads isn’t a fireable offense, what is?
  4. 4. A player could have been seriously injured or killed as a result of having a basketball thrown at his head. Again, why didn’t you view that as a fireable offense?
  5. 5. You’re now reconsidering your decision to retain Mr. Rice. If you feel you took the appropriate action by suspending him, why are you suddenly changing your mind? It looks like you’re just bowing to pressure because ESPN released a story you had hoped remained hidden.
  6. 6. After Penn State’s scandal, it became clear that athletic departments could no longer treat out-of-control coaches too leniently. Weren’t you nervous that your decision to keep Rice employed could bring all of you down?
  7. 7. How would you have treated, say, a humanities professor or a provost who hurled a basketball at a student’s head at high speed? 
  8. 8. What would you say to the parents of these athletes who trusted Rutgers coaches to treat their children with respect?
  9. 9. Your University Code of Student Conduct says: “All members of the Rutgers University community are expected to behave in an ethical and moral fashion, respecting the human dignity of all members of the community and resisting behavior that may cause danger or harm to others through violence, theft, or bigotry.” How would you respond to those who say you appear to have two sets of rules: one for high-profile university leaders, and the other for students and more lowly staff?
  10. 10. Why should students, faculty, and the community trust you to retain your positions?

What questions would you ask? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

UPDATE: April 3, 2013, 10:10 a.m.: Rutgers University just announced that it terminated Rice’s contract. The questions posed above remain just as relevant now as they were before his firing, since it took the University months — and public pressure — to take that action.

UPDATE 2: April 3, 2013: 11:23 a.m.: Rutgers’ Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, issued a reasonable statement this morning, in which he took responsibility for the delayed firing. His statement, and my response, can be found on PR Daily here.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

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