Video highlights problem of bullying

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

This past Tuesday (April 2, 2013), ESPN released a video of Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice shoving, kicking, screaming epithets and hurling balls directly at players on his team. It was ugly.

It was also convincing. Within 24 hours, Rice no longer had a coaching job. And in the various polls taken concerning whether he deserved his firing, there seemed to be little doubt. But questions still linger–such as, why wasn’t he fired sooner?

Unfortunately, whether we’re dealing with pedophile clergy, abusive coaches or workplace bullies, too many people put the perceived good of the institution ahead of the welfare of individuals. It seems Rutgers was no exception.

Only when ESPN broadcast the video did the university’s decision makers suddenly conclude that maybe their earlier three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine/pay cut (from more than $650,000 annually) hadn’t truly been an adequate response. So shouldn’t those who let Rice off so lightly also face repercussions?

Or course, there are plenty of other questions. Why did the players themselves put up with such mistreatment? Why didn’t they report Rice’s behavior to school authorities? Or to their parents?

Why? Because they desperately wanted something they felt they could have only if they put up with the bullying. And would they have been taken seriously had they complained to school administrators? Even when a former member of the coaching staff provided the shocking video, the matter was treated lightly.

The incentives to stay in a bullying situation are many and varied. Fear, need for security, longed-for opportunity, acceptance in the clique, a chance to be considered normal–all of these and more make adults, youth and children susceptible to bullies. Bullying usually has two major additional components: an imbalance of power and verbal, emotional or physical violence.

To complicate matters, our society doesn’t have a good track record of coming to the aid of those who seek help. Requests are too often met with indifference or dismissal. “Don’t be a wimp.” “Toughen up.” “I lived through it; so can you.”

One internet headline reported that Rice was fired because of a video. An astute commenter noted that the headline was incorrect: Rice was fired for violence against his students. That’s one call that somebody got right.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.