The decision was made to fire Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice yesterday, less than 24 hours after videotape was broadcast showing him repeatedly physically and verbally abusing his players, including using gay slurs.
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti in announcing the decision said, "I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December, and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community."
Here's the videotape in question, first aired on the ESPN show Outside The Lines on Tuesday:
The Lesson for Brands
Lesson #1: Never put anything or anyone ahead of the brand itself.
When the videotape was first brought to the attention of both Pernetti and University President Robert Barchi in November, their collective decision was to suspend Rice for three games and fine him $50,000.
Really? That was it? Could the fact that Pernetti hired Rice in the first place have anything do with it? Could Pernetti have been trying to cover his own you-know-what by not acting in a more direct, forthright manner in the first place?
Of course, no one will ever know for sure, so it's merely conjecture at this point, but it is worth noting at the very least.
How can you explain that it took the videotape becoming public and the subsequent outcry via social media and every other medium to finally do the right thing? As Jeff Pearlman wrote in his piece for SportsIllustrated.com: "Shame on Rutgers for not firing Mike Rice immediately."
Lesson #2: Learn from the past.
Not even three years ago Rutgers University was witness to a truly horrific series of events culminating in the suicide of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year old freshman who took his own life after a roommate posted a video online of him kissing another man in their dorm room.
As Pearlman so astutely points out in his column "... while perhaps other colleges and universities could be excused for having a tin ear when it comes to gay bullying, Rutgers cannot. It is shameful."
Shameful doesn't even begin to cover it. How could this university, this brand to put it into context, allow something like this to go on knowing that transpired less than 36 months prior?
Lesson #3: Trust is everything to a brand and once it's gone, it's very hard to get back.
In article I wrote last August about Penn State's PR troubles, I recounted a few examples of brands who were able to regain the public's trust, including Tylenol. Father Time is always in control when it comes to these kinds of things, but when Pernetti says he "will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community," he has his work cut out for him.
Not only must the Rutgers brand seek to regain trust, it must do so with the right people driving the proverbial bus.
At Penn State, the decision was made, and rightly so, to replace many high-ranking officials including the school president Graham Spanier. And no, I am in no way comparing the heinous acts that occurred in Happy Valley to the events at Rutgers. So, please don't get there.
How much trust can the public have in both Pernetti and Barchi? I, for one, have none. And I have zero interest in hearing anything either one has to say about things such as "moving forward" and any use of the word "culture."
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