Should Public Backlash Get A Person Fired?

April 3, 2013  |  

If you’ve watched the news in the past 24 hours, you’ve seen the video of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice flinging basketballs at his team, kicking them, and verbally abusing them, even tossing a few slurs into the mix. (Video below.) Though we’re just seeing this, Rice’s terrible coaching style was brought to the attention of the university months ago. And it was dealt with: in December, Rice was suspended for three games and fined $50,000 after athletic officials saw the video.

Chances are, in the minds of the university, the athletic department, and Coach Rice, the situation was resolved. But when the media caught wind of the video and started replaying it over and over throughout yesterday’s news cycle, the issue took on renewed importance. Just this morning on the Today show, I heard Willie Geist say that he didn’t think the coach would make it to noon. Lo and behold, Rice was fired just hours later.

USA Today points out that everyone — from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to LeBron James — chimed in with their opinions, all of them negative. For the most part commenters said the punishment was too lenient and called for Rice’s ouster. “I’ve let so many people down — my players, administration, Rutgers University, the fans, my family sitting huddled around just because their father was an embarrassment to them. It’s troubling,” Rice said on ESPN.

Ultimately, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said he was wrong for not taking a harder line, instead hoping that the situation could be “rehabilitated.”

According to the New York PostRice had a couple of years left on his $3.25 million contract. He also had a losing record, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Who can do a good job when they’ve got a tyrant barking at them?

I’m not opposed to Rice’s dismissal. The language, physical abuse, and consistent losses are reasons enough for him to lose his job. However, that’s not why he was canned. Rutgers dumped Coach Rice because the media got wind of it and everyone was giving them a hard time. In other words, the school had to solve a PR problem that, within a few hours, had come down hard on the university. To keep it from going further, they had to do something. And acquiescing angry onlookers became the solution. Everyone in charge knew about Rice’s behavior. It was condoned until it threatened to harm the university. Rutgers needs to look into itself to better draw a line in the sand about how students are treated.

But it also begs the question of whether the public should be so influential in these matters. Should public outcry determine whether someone gets to keep or lose their job? There’s nothing wrong with reconsidering an organization’s position. But should someone be fired because everyone else says so?

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