Memo From Michael: Thoughts on Coaching and Integrity

You’ve doubtless heard about the Rutgers University basketball coach, Mike Rice, who is shown on video in serial acts over two years abusing athletes and, quite simply, acting like a complete jerk. He was shown screaming homophobic slurs at his athletes, grabbing and pushing them and throwing basketballs at them from close range. The conduct was so over-the-top inappropriate that the discussion about the ethics of his behavior is simplistic: It’s wrong to be disrespectful. It’s even more wrong when forms of physical violence are involved. And wronger still when the violence is perpetrated by an adult male on young men he is responsible for teaching.

The tougher question concerns consequences for the administrators, who many think were far too lenient. Before the story became public, the athletic director (and maybe the University President) thought a short suspension and fine was sufficient to cause the coach to rehabilitate himself. In the sharp lights of relentless media coverage it apparently looked very different. After briefly defending the decision, the athletic director and the university relented to public pressure and fired Rice.

Is this is a mini-version of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky? Major institutions put their credibility on the line whenever they respond to misconduct. They send a message as to what their values are. Thus, when it became obvious that a substantial majority of citizens thought the Rutgers coach was so out of line that he had to be fired, Rutgers quickly decided to cut its losses and relent. The question is, were they totally surprised that public opinion would be so strong or were they simply relying on the always unfounded belief that no one would know?

If the Rutgers administration truly thought firing the coach was unjust, they should have the moral courage to stand by their decision and take the heat. However, if there is one standard of punishment if no one outside the organization will know about it, and another when it becomes public, something is wrong.

This incident proves the value of a simple guide to making decisions: do what you would do if you knew your decision and the underlying incident would be widely known (e.g., seen on CNN, in the NY Times, or perhaps posted on Facebook or YouTube). Called the “publicity test,” this simple approach requires the decision maker to project the likely reactions when the decision becomes known and whether that exposure would enhance or diminish trust and credibility of the decision maker.

There are two possible scenarios at play: 1) Either the athletic director and Rutgers badly miscalculated the public reaction – in which case we can criticize their judgment, or 2) They knew it would be bad if the story came out, but they believed it wouldn’t – in which case, we can criticize both their judgment and their integrity.

What do you think? What are the fair consequences to the athletic director and his bosses?

Comments 7

  1. Dear Michael,

    You have just written on a very important piece of your program – RESPECT- which for me does include INTEGRITY.

    As a former student of your classes I and II back in the early 2000’s, I believe 2002 and 2003,you taught the core values with which I was raised , at home, in school, in church, and within the community.

    What we have seen on television in the case of Mr. Rice, is but a drop in the ocean of adults’ behavior with students as well as with other adults. For me the behaviior has always been intolerable. I had the sad experiece of reporting a staff member’s verbal abuse to a principal who may have slapped the hand of the abuser, but it didn’t change his behavior. I was hired to teach students, train staff and pass out all of the literature and posters for C. C., but when I returned to school a Department hean wanted me to be retained in my former position, and my principal either chose to give in to the Administration and let things go. I had no say in my life. I was blessed hat I loved teaching students and loving them and always taught character even long before I had the blessing of being sent to your school twice by the principal who wanted me to be his counselor/Character Counts Leader.

    While I know this may not appear to many as having much of a connection to th Coach Rice story, in my heart and mind it does. The key words for me are RESPECT AND INTEGRITY. We see it in various forms throughou the world, in homes, workplaces and so very sadly students experiencing bullying by adults and then passing on to their peers or youngerl

    I thank you so much for all you do, all you have written, and all of the people you have trained to change the course of behavior of the human beings throughout the world.

    God bless you, your family and your staff as you continue to teach the right way to live.

    I do have a rich blessing in that my grandchildren Kyley and Ethan, twins just turned 9 have been taught and are being taught Character Counts for the last three years an can rattle off the pillars so fast, it puts the grandmother to shame. I fortunately live them, even if my brain doesn’t spout them as quickly as they use to.

    With a grateful heart and much gratitude to have experienced being in your classes and meeting your beauiful wife and precious daughters.



    1. Barbara thank you for your very thoughtful piece about integrity – I agree with it all — and your very generous words about me and your experience as a law student. It is gratifying and fortifying to be appreciated and I thank you for taking the time to say such nice things. Best and warmest wishes to you. – Michael

    2. @ Barbara. Thank you for your very thoughtful note including the very kind and supportive words for CHARACTER COUNTS!

      I wholeheartedly agree with the message of your post and the importance of both respect and integrity. I understand how you have thought of integrity as a part of respect and if that works for you I support it. I suppose it’s my law background but as they have different root virtues I prefer to keep them separate, but that’s an insignificant quibble. Thank you for your good work with kids.

      By the way, I am very enthused about our most current version we call CHARACTER COUNTS! 4.0 which adds lots of dimensionality to the program — you might want to check it out at If your school is still involved with CC! I hope you will explore expanding the program in your school and elsewher. (Sorry for the commercial – I am a relentless missionary).

  2. I appreciate the comments about integrity and recently it has come to light that the Rutgers University Athletic Director wished to fire Mr. Rice upon knowledge of the incidents. The AD was told by the solicitor and administration that firing the coach would not hold up if challenged in court with the university policies that were in place. Therefore we all must assume the AD followed the directive of those above him. Do these people have the integrity or courage to be placed in a position of power?? I think not but the AD was by his initial response to release the coach.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly with your assessment of both Coach Rice’s behavior and the administrative response. I am, however, disappointed in your use of the term “homophobic.” Simply using offensive or derogatory language is not an indication of an irrational fear, but may only be insensitivity, ignorance, or crudeness. Let’s not make something out to be something it is not.

    1. @ J Mercer. Thank you for your comment. You are, of course, correct that the term homophobic refers to fear and there is no indication of that Mr. Rice has any fear of gay people. I was using it the more common (but technically incorrect) usage as a word describing prejudice against homosexuals.Clearly, the derogatory language used by coach Rice does reveal a fundamental disrespect and possibly a deeper hostility toward homosexuals. Is there a better word to describe this?

  4. I would like to better understand what policies were in place that would not allow the AD to fire this coach. Physical, verbal or emotional abuse to my understanding is not tolerated in our society especially when working with young people. If I as an educator had been involved in an incident like this in the slightest degree, I would have been fired on the spot. It was also reported that he had similar behavior with young children in a basketball camp. If so has the child abuse hotline been notified? What about his own children are they being protected from a father with a lot of built up rage? This is a matter that should be further investigated and I am hopeful that he stays away from children until he takes some courses, maybe ones that you offer in Character Counts to help with his rage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *