Bring the Pain: Rutgers Basketball and the Pandemic of Abuse towards Men

2009-10 men's basketball team
On The Mark

Listening to the supporters of former Rutgers’ Men’s Basketball coach Mike Rice sound eerily similar to a person who was chronically battered by an intimate partner.

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, citing portions of an Associated Press article, you will find this quote:

“I feel if people had a chance to see the other portions of practice, or had been at practice, their judgment would not be as severe. I am not saying what he did wasn’t wrong, because I do believe it was wrong. But it is also tough because it was a highlight reel of his worst moments. He did a lot for us off the court, academically, socially. I have to say I enjoyed my time, even it was an emotional roller-coaster.”

If that’s not disturbing enough for your sensibilities, another player was quote as saying the following in the same article:

“You can’t let those individual moments define what he was. In my past two years, me being an older guy and being under other coaches, I have grown from the moment I stepped in these doors, not only as a player but also as a person because of how he has treated me.”

Abusive behavior is often sanctioned, rationalized, and even embraced by those who are battered and abused. The acts of repeated aggressive behavior consisting of shoves, hitting, kicks, basketballs being hurled from close range at high speed, and a cascading wall of homophobic slurs embody the worst of abusive behavior. The fact that these student-athletes, who constantly functioned under this undulating fan of oppressive negativity, have rationalized this is unfortunate but not surprising. What’s more telling is the institutional cover-up that rightfully cost former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti his job.

Rutgers, the newest member of the Big Ten conference sought to manage the negativity that firing their basketball coach would bring upon the lucrative arrangement they brokered and decided upon a soft punishment instead of the a punishment that was fitting of the offense. A three game suspension and a $50,000 fine is essentially sending your child to his room without TV for burning down the rest of the house. The most appalling part of this punishment is that the coach was then placed on a zero-tolerance policy. That means, after you harm another student athlete, we will then fire you. We are going to put you in position to do the same thing and risk the safety of someone else’s child and hope you won’t. This choice is the highest form of self-serving and buttocks covering arrogance. The president deserves to be fired also. His flagrant disregard and willful ignorance about the safety of the very young people he is charged to protect and develop displays a micro-indifference that is endemic in the larger fabric of intercollegiate athletics.

Larger than these issues is the cloud of violence viewed through a gender matrix. The Daily Show did a mash-up of selected hetero and misogynistic views about this Rutgers scandal that speak to the larger issue.

The comments, as moronic and Neanderthal-like as they may be, let us know that men are not viewed as abused because violence between men and acted upon men cannot be abuse but is merely discipline or a rite of manhood. Not to make a detailed racial or class analysis on these comments, I do realize that the American fascination and glorification of violence is rooted in an historical and racial understanding that violence towards those in submissive positions is seen as a normal and adequate way of control and motivation for production. Ultimately, if a male coach on a female basketball team enacted this abuse, Rice would have been fired before the last ball he threw would have hit the ground. Male-to-female violence is a area worthy of our attention and annihilation but men, yes men, are often abused and for a man to call attention to that abuse would often mean risking whatever flawed notion of manhood he owns because men are to be violent and embrace violence. It’s the American way.

In a strange way, our culture actually invites abusers to “bring the pain” because to do the right thing is not profitable or expedient. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar sharecropping conglomerate that makes the bulk of its money on the amateur backs of young men who have their earning rights abused and constricted at every turn. Kevin Ware’s gruesome, public injury and Addidas’ SHAMELESS and mercenary profiteering off his injury by selling shirts with his number (yet he received no profit from it) further abuses a student athlete who is already broken, trusting his future to a system that should do right by him but refuses to, because of its expedient, hyper-capitalistic nature. Only after the same public outcry that brought Rutgers University to its financially padded knees did change happen and only after a similar public outcry did Addidas pull the shirts and offer to donate the money to the University of Louisville’s general scholarship fund.

I’ve notices that chauvinism often restricts and hinders women’s rights and privileges by employing the gender dynamic of men being powerful and must act in certain ways to women, commonly but wrongly, expressed as the “weaker sex,” but at least some sort of, if not superficial, at least, ornamental benefit is extended (i.e. doors opened, etc.). It’s commonly understood that men should not assault women (although much work needs to be done in the manifestation this ideal), male on male or violence against males has no such superficial ideal of protection. There are many voices, but nearly enough, that champion the rights of abused women but who will champion the voices of abused men?

Many of these men either embrace abuse as a natural part of manhood or, by being trapped in a problematic notion of manhood, believe that power over someone comes by being on the giving end of the fist instead of being the unfortunate weaker, receiver. The NCAA, Rutgers University, and broader societal notions have and continually create spaces for abusers to bring the pain. Where do the abused bring their pain?


Mark Jefferson is a native of Hampton, Virginia. He played football at Norfolk State University and graduated magna cum laude in 2005. He graduated from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2008 with a Master of Divinity with a certificate in Black Church Studies. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at Emory University in Religion, focusing on homiletics and hip-hop culture. He is an ordained Baptist minister and resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Check his blog out on and follow him on Twitter at @MarkAJefferson.