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 Bullying, Abusive Behavior in the light of the current Rutgers firings

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Bullying, Abusive Behavior in the light of the current Rutgers firings   Sun Apr 07, 2013 3:07 pm

In America, sports has become our national religion, especially basketball and football. The Catholic churches are become more and more empty in the light of their rigidity and institutional protectionism, the evangelical churches are losing the younger generation - a majority of who support same-sex marriage and believe anyone can go to heaven, but sports - that's the big church and the coaches are the princes of this religion. Even on the college level, the coaches are paid millions of dollars in salary and perks. And right now, this is the high time of college basketball season in America - "March Madness"

I posted about the scandal at Penn State some months back - since it was a very useful mirror to see how we can become deliberately self-blind, protect institutions over people, and create cults of personality. A scandal is currently roiling the college basketball scene - this time it does not involve sexual conduct, but physical and emotional bullying - now all caught on video. The coach at Rutgers University has been exposed as a major bully and fired - but the interesting part of the story is how long the administration there knew about his behavior, how they tried to minimize or ignore it, and how they sought to protect the institution rather than the students. Old story Same circus, different clowns.

Of course, sports coaches are supposed to be tough, push kids hard, make them faster and better, and so on. And that could certainly apply to other kinds of instructors - who teach ballet or music or medicine or law. I have appreciated tough teachers at different times of my life. And there is a difference between being an effective motivating teacher and being an abusive pathological bully - maybe there is a spectrum, but at a certain point, things can get out of hand, and lock in that way for years, decades - become the "way it is done here" - it becomes the tradition... and if kids / students are traumatized, well they just couldn't cut it. As in many institutions, the princes of these different kinds of churches immunize themselves against criticism or accountability.

As I read the Rutgers stories, I couldn't help thinking that much of what we see with some of these masters / roshis "gone wild" really comes down to bullying - at least as part of their behavior. That is why they can get away with their manipulative behavior for decades - when anyone even slightly speaks up, they are simply bullied - verbally and emotionally - so they learn to shut up or they get out. And this can go on for decades. We can dress up the bullying and call it "tough Dharma love" - and maybe at times there was a little of that was effective - maybe - but much more of this seems exactly what it appears to be -- bullying and self-protection. Especially because it was done in the context of protecting the teacher from criticism, exposure or negative gossip or law suits. Drop the rosy colored Zen glasses, and we have bullies - with no oversight.

This might seem like I am beating a dead horse here - since we have discussed these issues around Kennett on this forum before. Indeed we have. But right now, this is the current crisis with Sasaki and Shimano. It is not old news. In both cases, over 50 years of silence and complicity and denial.

The interesting question is always why did Rutgers, for example, know about this and allow it to continue? Why did they put up with it? How can the followers of Sasaki say nothing for 50 years? How does that happen? One way to see this is that we are caught in a distortion field - we can't see our way out - and we want something. We want something and think that if we speak out or fire they guy - then we won't get what we want or need.

What does Rutgers want or need? A great winning coach - which is clearly more important than integrity or the well being of their students. Winning is everything. What do the Zen students want? Well, they need to have an official master who will enlighten them. They don't believe they can do it on their own and if they speak out, he will kick them out or he will walk out and stop teaching, so they quickly learn to keep silent. Even if women are being molested, that's the price to keep the roshi on his seat and the game continuing. Rutgers needs the coach. The zen students need the teacher.... so they pay whatever the cost.

This is also an example of how a big story takes the place of reality. It takes over and blinds you to everything else - it drowns out all the evidence to the contrary because the big story is so shiny and grand and holy and feels so huge. With Rutgers, the big story is that they must have a top basketball team to be taken seriously as a top university. Without this top team, this coach, they are nothing. That's a big story. And of course with these Zen groups, you have a huge story that your teacher is some version of a living Buddha - the Sasaki folks often said he was the greatest Zen teacher in the world - or some version of that - and we heard that at Shasta, when Kennett died, there was some movement to declare her some kind of living Buddha of the west. So the students define their identities by being the disciples of the great master, so you want to keep that big story in tact - at all costs.

Here's the secret - when you telling or living a story - and you experience all these emotional highs from telling your story - it's a clear tip off that it's a fantasy, a fiction, a wonderful myth - but a myth nonetheless. too good to be true. and when you drop the story, guess what - suddenly the shadow side of this fantasy explodes into conscious awareness..... when the truth is exposed - in the case of Sasaki or Rutgers, what happens? Suddenly, the grand shiny story evaporates (people are now asking "tough" questions - which is even way better than "tough love" - and you are left with the coach screaming at his students on video tape played on the national news - and you see how really painful and pathological it is. The trance is broken.

And with Sasaki, the previously suppressed accounts are all over the internet, in a full-page article in the New York Times, the reality stares everyone in the face. Even if you try to keep telling the story, you just can't. It doesn't work anymore. You feel the stark reality of the abuse and no excuses or rationalizations will work in the light of day - in the simple light of common sense and everyday ethical consideration. When before, there were decades where no one dared ask any questions at all, no one dared challenge the rules of the game, the behavior of the "master" - now everyone is asking, WTF??? You believe that? You allowed that? Why? What were you thinking or not thinking? What Zen is this? This is how an "enlightened teacher" behaves? This is Buddhism? Before if you asked one of these questions, you were bullied or pushed out the door. Now, these questions are drowning everything else out -and demanding some sane answers - and really, they are all koans that are much more immediate than any sound of one hand not clapping.

And by the way, by not honestly and straightforwardly dealing with this coach, things will get so much worse for this university. They wanted to be taken seriously as a top university. What were they thinking????

So here are two stories about Rutgers.

April 6, 2013
Rutgers Officials Long Knew of Coach’s Actions
By STEVE EDER


They first saw the video Nov. 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving, inside an office in Piscataway, N.J., but it was hardly the first time that senior Rutgers officials had heard of the troubling behavior of Mike Rice, the men’s basketball coach.

There was the upperclassman who earlier in the year had come forward to say that he felt bullied. There was an outburst during a game that led to Mr. Rice’s ejection. And there were the months of allegations from a former assistant, who repeatedly claimed that Mr. Rice was abusive.

Tim Pernetti, the athletic director, knew all of that and had repeatedly tried to rein in Mr. Rice, according to a 50-page report that Rutgers commissioned outside lawyers to prepare. He personally reprimanded him, attended Mr. Rice’s practices and even assigned the university’s sports psychologist to work with the team, the report said.

But the video was stark, a highlight reel of abuse — the coach kicking his players, hurling basketballs at them and taunting them with homophobic slurs. Those epithets were especially galling at Rutgers, where a gay freshman had killed himself.

The video, parts of which were made public last week, was 30 minutes long. It had been professionally edited from a collection of 219 DVDs covering hundreds of hours of practices, material that Rutgers had voluntarily provided to Eric Murdock, the former assistant, after his departure.

Mr. Pernetti’s decision not to fire Mr. Rice after seeing the video — despite internal university documents that suggest he legally could have — cost him his job, and has embroiled Rutgers in a deepening scandal during a time of tumultuous change for the university.

But Mr. Pernetti is hardly the only person who watched the edited video and still approved of keeping Mr. Rice on staff until last week. The athletic department’s human resources and chief financial officer saw the video, as did the university’s outside legal counsel. At least one member of the board of governors saw it. Robert L. Barchi, the university president, has said he did not see it before last week, although at least one of his senior directors asked him to watch it.

Interviews with university officials, former players and members of the board, as well as reviews of internal documents and legal records, show that when the most senior Rutgers officials were confronted with explicit details about Mr. Rice’s behavior toward his players and his staff, they ignored them or issued relatively light penalties.

The interviews and documents reveal a culture in which the university was far more concerned with protecting itself from legal action than with protecting its students from an abusive coach.

University officials focused on the technical issue of whether Mr. Rice had created a hostile work environment, a potential legal justification for his firing, while paying less attention to the larger question of whether Rutgers should employ an authority figure who hurled slurs at and physically provoked its students.

Mr. Murdock first laid out his allegations about Mr. Rice in a letter that his lawyer sent to university officials in July. He said officials repeatedly canceled meetings with him to discuss those claims, until Nov. 26, when he showed them the video.

About two weeks later, Rutgers suspended Mr. Rice for three games and fined him $50,000. Mr. Pernetti did not offer much explanation at the time other than to say that the punishment was related to incidents at practice involving players.

“We commenced a thorough, lengthy and fair investigation, and this was the result,” he said in December.

Meanwhile, the university had hired outside counsel to investigate the men’s basketball program and determine Rutgers’s legal options. Lawyers with the firm Connell Foley of Roseland, N.J., interviewed coaches, players and administrators. They reviewed text messages, secret recordings and dozens of hours of video, noting the vulgar terms Mr. Rice used to address players.

But the primary goal of the report, which was completed in January and made public Friday, was not to determine whether Mr. Rice had abused his players, or whether he was a suitable authority figure for a group of young men. Instead, it focused largely on whether Mr. Rice created a hostile work environment, which could have resulted in future lawsuits, and whether Mr. Murdock was wrongfully terminated.

Lawyers interviewed assistants, who said the video clips — which represented less than one-half of 1 percent of Mr. Rice’s total practices, the report said — were taken out of context. The lawyers also interviewed players who thought Mr. Rice prepared them well for tough competition. The report notes that under Mr. Rice, the players’ grades rose to a B average.

It called Mr. Rice “passionate, energetic and demanding” and said that his intense tactics seemed genuinely aimed at improving his team and “were in no way motivated by animus.”

But the report also describes Mr. Rice’s misconduct: broken clipboards, kicks aimed at teenagers, basketballs thrown at his players. Page after page describes the very actions that spurred outrage from higher education leaders across the country last week — including at Rutgers, even though Rutgers officials received the report months ago.

“Certain actions of Coach Rice did ‘cross the line,’ ” the report said, and those actions “constituted harassment or intimidation.”


“These improper actions,” the report added, “constitute grossly demeaning behavior directed at players, and occasionally at coaches, that do not appear necessary to build a high quality basketball program or to build a winning Division I basketball team.”

The report also made clear that Mr. Pernetti, who has said publicly that he initially wanted to fire Mr. Rice, would have been well within his legal rights to do so. “We believe that A.D. Pernetti could reasonably determine that Coach Rice’s actions tended to embarrass and bring shame to Rutgers in violation of Coach Rice’s employment contract,” it said.

As to the legal questions that seemed to preoccupy Rutgers officials, the report was clear. “Coach Rice’s conduct does not constitute a hostile work environment,” it said.

The lawyers also assured Rutgers officials that Mr. Murdock’s “assertion that he was wrongfully terminated from his position at Rutgers is without merit.”

On Friday, Dr. Barchi, the university president, said that once he finally saw the videotape this week, “it took me five minutes” to decide to fire Mr. Rice.

But the report, which describes much of Mr. Rice’s behavior in detail, apparently warranted no follow-up. The university has not described any additional actions taken against Mr. Rice after receiving the report in January. A spokesman for Rutgers declined to comment for this article.

The lawyers’ clear bill of health seemed enough for Rutgers officials to declare the Rice matter closed — until ESPN showed the footage last week.

The scandal comes during an extraordinarily sensitive time for the university.

Rutgers had been working for years to improve its reputation and financing, in large part by elevating its athletic program. The university had expanded and renovated its football stadium, at a cost of some $100 million, and had been negotiating to join the prestigious Big Ten Conference, a move that would raise its profile and bring in huge revenue from athletics.

Dr. Barchi joined Rutgers in September — after serving as the president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and, previously, the provost of the University of Pennsylvania — with orders to upend the university, merging Rutgers and the state medical schools. Joining the Big Ten was crucial to those broader ambitions, and Dr. Barchi worked closely on that goal with Mr. Pernetti. Mr. Pernetti, who had been hailed as a visionary before last week, received a severance package worth at least $1.25 million when he resigned.

Dr. Barchi and other university officials adamantly maintain that the Big Ten negotiations, which proved successful, had nothing to do with how administrators handled Mr. Rice.

But it is clear that a scandal during those months could have proved damaging in the university’s bid for membership. Rutgers’s first Big Ten competition is scheduled for next year.

Mr. Murdock, a former professional basketball player, has emerged as a complicated figure in the scandal. He maintains that he was a whistle-blower who was horrified at Mr. Rice’s behavior and was unjustly fired for speaking up about it.

But the F.B.I. is investigating whether Mr. Murdock attempted to extort the university in the matter, and an agent recently visited Mr. Pernetti’s office, along with other sites on Rutgers’s campus, according to a university official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The F.B.I. investigation is believed to be related to a letter that Mr. Murdock’s lawyer sent to administrators in December demanding $950,000 “to resolve his claims,” according to the official.

The F.B.I. declined to comment; a lawyer for Mr. Murdock, Raj Gadhok, dismissed the extortion allegations as “simply false.”

Mr. Murdock said that he finally secured a meeting with Rutgers officials, after repeated attempts, on Nov. 20 in a Piscataway office on the Rutgers campus. But once again, Mr. Murdock said, it was canceled. Instead, on that same day, Rutgers officials held a news conference to announce the official invitation to join the Big Ten.

“It’s a transformative day for Rutgers University,” Mr. Pernetti said publicly at the time.

Six days later, in the same room where Mr. Pernetti spoke that day, Mr. Murdock screened the footage of Mr. Rice.

Nate Schweber and Marc Santora contributed reporting.

April 4, 2013
Question Arises as Scandal Unfolds: Where’s the Line?
By JOE DRAPE and NATE TAYLOR


Two years ago Mike Rice sat in Terry Henderson’s living room and asked him to entrust his son to the basketball program at Rutgers. At the time, Terry Jr. was a talented player at Neuse Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., with scholarship options, and his father was trying to decide which college coach would get “the keys to my son.”

Terry Jr. was impressed by how passionate Rice was about turning Rutgers’s downtrodden men’s basketball team into a winner. “I thought he was a pretty cool coach,” he said. His father was taken with Rice’s energy, but he did not feel the coach was properly grounded.

“You could tell he wanted certain things out of his kids,” he said.

In the end, the Hendersons chose West Virginia. This week, with Rice at the center of a scandal at Rutgers, they were considering the same question that confronted families involved in sports at any level: where is the line between fiery motivation and abuse by a coach?

The release of video of Rice berating players at practice, throwing basketballs at them, kicking them and taunting them with vulgar language, including gay slurs, provided the latest example of a coach behaving in a manner that many found unacceptable. In February, Mike Montgomery, the basketball coach at California, shoved one of his star players, Allen Crabbe, in a game. In November, Morehead State Coach Sean Woods pushed guard Devon Atkinson in the back as he came off the floor for a timeout, then chastised him nose-to-nose as he took a seat on the bench.

Rice was fired Wednesday, and Rutgers’s president and athletic director are under scrutiny.

“I saw him throwing the ball at the players, and I was stunned,” said the younger Henderson, who recently completed a successful first season at West Virginia. “I was kind of sad, too.”

Shock and revulsion to Rice’s actions have reverberated through all levels of sports. LeBron James of the Miami Heat was among nearly a dozen N.B.A. players who took to Twitter to weigh in on the controversy.

“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,” he wrote.

One former coach, Dan Dakich, acknowledged that he would be uncomfortable if a tape of some of his motivational techniques ever emerged. He played four years at Indiana for Coach Bob Knight, who was fired in 2000 shortly after a tape appeared to show him putting his hands on a player’s neck. Dakich, now a broadcaster, was an assistant to Knight for another 12 years.

“I’d be a hypocrite if I came on here and said I haven’t yelled and screamed at players; I did,” he said on ESPN Radio on Wednesday. “I was crazy and am sure if I looked back and heard what I said, I’d be disgusted with myself.”

Sidelines and practice fields have long been the stamping grounds of the loud and the proud. Coaches like the Boston Celtics’ Red Auerbach, the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi and Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne brought titles and larger-than-life personalities to what had long been thought of as an honorable profession, but a modest one. Their locker rooms were their kingdoms, and what went on inside largely remained a mystery.

Money and glamour have changed everything.

Nick Saban, Alabama’s football coach, has won consecutive national titles and makes more than $4 million a year. Mike Krzyzewski is paid about the same amount in salary and bonuses, according to Forbes, and has led the Duke men’s basketball team to four national championships. Saban and Krzyzewski have been shown on television in animated discussions with their players, but each is celebrated for his intensity and motivational skills as well as for being a strategist.

Rice, 44, was making more than $750,000 annually. Before he was fired Wednesday, he led Rutgers to a middling 44-51 record in three seasons. It is difficult for those who have seen the video of his abusive actions to defend his behavior, but some can understand where it came from.

“I was struck by the contempt that Coach Rice had for his players — the way he treated and talked to them,” said Jim Thompson, the founder and chief executive of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit that provide training to coache. “As the money has gotten bigger, it has become win at all costs. Coaches start to see players as widgets to be moved around, and they don’t care how those players feel. It’s, What more can I extract from them?”

Dakich said he knew and liked Rice, who had been a call-in guest on Dakich’s Indianapolis radio show. When he saw the video, however, he was stunned, he said. “I was sickened,” he added. “I wanted to hit him.”

Justin Haas, a former student manager at Robert Morris, where Rice previously coached, said the image of Rice in the montage of Rutgers practices was at odds with the coach he knew and admired. Haas said that Rice had a “fiery approach” to the game and that his practices were intense for a reason: to bring out the best in his players. Robert Morris’s three conference championships and two N.C.A.A. tournament appearances were proof that his methods worked.

“His style is nothing out of the ordinary across collegiate sports,” Haas said. “Any player, current or former, that played for Coach Rice and knows Coach Rice will have nothing but positive things to say because they understand his method. They became a better man and better player from their experience.”

Why didn’t the Rutgers players who were targets of Rice’s abuse strike back, or at least voice objections to his behavior?

“Because it’s far more common than you think, especially in the youth and A.A.U. ranks,” said Matthew Davidson, president of the Institute for Excellence and Ethics, which conducts research and creates programming on the development of character and culture in sport. “So they are conditioned to think that the coach controls everything. They get you into prep schools, help you get scholarships to college. Once you’re there, if you want to transfer because he throws a ball at your head, he can tell another school that you have character issues.”

Steve Eder, Zach Schonbrun and Mike Tierney contributed reporting.
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