Why Employers Need to Watch the Mike Rice Basketball Bully Video

by Elizabeth A. Bert on April 4th, 2013

Every senior executive needs to watch the video of former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his players during practice.

Executives should also pay attention to comments made by Eric Murdock, director of player personnel for Rutgers basketball, who was present during Rice’s practices

In his interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Murdock wonders why Rice was not fired sooner, specifically since he raised issues with the athletic director Tim Pernetti in the summer of 2012. The answer to his own question is classic: when Pernetti came to practice, Rice “was on his best behavior.” When the AD left, the four-letter words and physical abuse returned. “I was in total shock that this guy wasn’t fired,” says Murdock, who himself was a first-round draft pick and played in the NBA for nine seasons.

Sadly Rice’s antics can be viewed as a classic example of “ kiss up, and kick down” behavior. Behave when the boss is present; abuse when the boss is gone.

Bullies are endemic in the workplace. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, which commissioned the polling firm Zogby to conduct a survey in 2010:

35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender harassment

“Additionally “50% [of those surveyed by WBI/Zogby] report neither experiencing nor witnessing bullying.” This is what WBI labels a “silent epidemic.” Hence victims or witnesses are too intimidated to complain and so the problem is allowed to persist.

After all, management, like Rutgers administration, which knew of the issues for months, did little to correct the problem. It  suspended Rice for three games December 2012 after seeing the tape of Rice’s bad behavior, but did nothing else until the tape became public. The day after ESPN aired it; Rice was fired. Now there are calls for Pernetti to be removed.

No wonder workers do not speak up. People know the abuse is happening but they look the other way. While some bullies get away with such bad behavior because they get good results, not always. In this instance Rice was not a particularly successful coach. He posted a losing record this year. Yet he was allowed to remain in place until public shaming was allowed to trump the “keep it in the family” attitude.

Employers know workplace bullying is more than an issue; it’s a liability. Here’s what Sharon Perella, a New York-based attorney who represents management, told the Insurance Journal, “I believe this is the new claim that employers will deal with. This will replace sexual harassment. People who oppose it say these laws will force people to be polite at work. But you can no longer go to work and act like a beast and get away with it.”

Fear of the boss, coupled with the belief that management will not listen, cows employees into silence and so it is up to executives who want to do the right thing to initiate anti-bullying policies that ensure the protection of employees and the banishment of bullying.

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