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Steinberg: Coaches behaving badly

April 10, 2013|By Leigh Steinberg

The head coach and his assistants in collegiate sports may have the most powerful opportunity to shape the values and behavior of athletes at any level.

Against the pressure of alumni and fan expectations, they recruit and coach young athletes who are still impressionable and maturing. The coaches have near absolute power, except in the case of "one and done" NBA-bound college basketball players, to influence the arc and future of player's careers. They represent a university that has an educational responsibility.

When coaches behave very badly and abuse rules or the players themselves, the experience becomes dysfunctional and rotten to its core. It then becomes the responsibility of an athletic department and university administration to dramatically intervene to set things right. Lack of oversight leads to situations like Penn St. and Jerry Sandusky.

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Rutgers University basketball Coach Mike Rice and his assistant Jimmy Martelli have run a rogue, abusive program for years. A videotape revealed practice sessions in which Rice threw basketballs at players and hit them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. He was also shown pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and pulling them around the court. Rice is heard yelling obscenities at the players and using gay slurs. Coach Martelli engaged in the physically abusing players regularly during practice and was even more verbally belittling, as observed on tapes shown on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" last week.

When Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti was informed verbally of this behavior, he claims to have launched "hundreds of hours of investigation". Really Mr. Pernetti? Then upon seeing the DVD, he suspended the coach in November for three games. Then, life went on at Rutgers. Until ESPN aired its report and Coach Rice was finally fired last week. Had ESPN not aired the report would Rice and Martelli still be abusing players at Rutgers?

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