Basketball scandal claims US university officials
NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey — The disclosure of a video of a U.S. college basketball coach hitting, kicking and taunting his players with anti-gay slurs brought down the school’s athletic director and general counsel over their failure to fire him months ago.
The video was made public Tuesday on the sports network ESPN, prompting outrage nationwide and on the Rutgers University campus. The school recently was in the spotlight after an unrelated incident in 2010 when a gay student killed himself after his roommate used a webcam to record him kissing another man.
Coach Mike Rice was fired Wednesday as the images of him throwing basketballs at players at close range on the court went viral. On Thursday, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti resigned after criticism for only suspending and fining the coach after the video was brought to his attention. A former employee gave the university the video in November and is now suing the school, saying it violated state anti-bullying law.
The video emerged internally last year as the university was negotiating to join the most lucrative conference in the country, the Big Ten Conference, which means millions in additional revenue from TV contracts and more national exposure. Rutgers is close to New York City, a major media market.
Pernetti said Friday he wanted to fire Rice immediately but did not because the consensus among school officials at the time was that it didn’t warrant dismissal.
“I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers,” university President Robert Barchi said Friday. “I also apologize to the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community and all of us who share their values for the homophobic slurs shown on that video. I personally know how hurtful that language can be.”
Barchi said he first saw the video only this week but was aware it existed in late November, when Pernetti gave him a summary of what was on it.
Also resigning Friday was John B. Wolf, Rutgers’ general counsel, who is believed to have recommended against firing Rice in December over the video.
Pernetti was given the video by a former employee, Eric Murdock, and the decision was made in December to suspend Rice for three games, fine and dock him pay totaling $75,000 and order him to attend anger management classes.
Murdock filed a whistleblower lawsuit Friday, alleging Rutgers violated the state’s employee protection act and his contract. He said he wrote to the university in July about Rice’s “unlawful conduct” and gave the university the video in November.
“Despite having been in possession of such video footage, the university and its representatives inexplicably chose to ignore Defendant Rice’s unlawful conduct,” the lawsuit said.
Murdock was the director of player of development. His contract wasn’t renewed in July. He said he was let go ultimately because he complained to university officials about Rice’s mistreatment of players.
Murdock claims the school violated state anti-bullying law and a Rutgers policy put in place after the 2010 suicide.
Rutgers officials declined to comment about the lawsuit.