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Sports Remain A Mess

Rice, Ware Situations Are Latest Maladies

It’s impossible to be surprised by the dreadful hubris and hypocrisy of college sports, which seem a daily occurrence, much like the sun rising in the east. Today’s installment deals with Louisville and Rutgers.

Adidas has selflessly printed up T-shirts that say “Ri5e to the occasion” — referring to Cardinals guard Kevin Ware, who wore No. 5 — and will sell them for a mere $24.99. Louisville has graciously waived any profit from the shirts, and the money will go instead to Ware.

No, wait, it won’t. As with all student-athletes, Ware gets squadoosh, even for a T-shirt that is supposedly printed in his honor. Adidas has graciously agreed to donate a portion of its profits to the school’s scholarship fund. So a T-shirt and a university will profit from the horrific injury Ware suffered in Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke on Sunday.

Here’s the kicker: The NCAA does not require schools to pick up the tab for medical bills incurred while playing for said schools, from pulled hamstrings to the gruesome injury suffered by Ware. And because Ware is not considered an employee of the university, he is not eligible for worker’s compensation. (Yes, he and other athletes receive scholarships, but that can’t continue to be the easy retort when the topic of stipends and other assistance is raised.)

Louisville is not obligated to pay Ware’s medical bills, which will likely be staggering considering the extent of the injury and the amount of rehabilitation he’ll need. Ware and athletes at many schools are expected to use their personal insurance to cover costs. The good news is that the school is doing the right thing: It will pay Ware’s costs.

But the fact remains that Ware and other athletes should be paid a stipend. And the NCAA should require all schools to take care of all scholarship athletes, regardless of injury. Because catastrophic injuries won’t always happen in front of the cameras of major networks on a Sunday afternoon when viewership — and sympathy, and attention — runs high.

What happens when the severe injury happens on a half-empty field with no cameras looking on? (Although these days there will be video, and after what happened at Rutgers, thank goodness.) It’s not an exaggeration to say that the NCAA makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year off its athletes. If proceeds from sales of the T-shirts went toward Ware’s medical bills and recovery, I’d be first in line to buy one. But that’s not how it works. How it does work is poorly.

Speaking of working poorly, why hasn’t Rutgers fired Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and President Robert Barchi? Almost no good came from the Penn State debacle — Jerry Sandusky in prison being a notable exception — but shouldn’t some lessons have been learned? Pernetti let Mike Rice continue to coach the men’s basketball team after seeing that tape, suspending him three games and fining him $50,000 in December. Barchi was told about the video at the time but stunningly chose not to watch it.

Because he didn’t do the right thing and fire him in December, Rice finished out the season, which earned him a $100,000 bonus for his spectacular 15-16 performance. Rutgers said Thursday that it will pay out the bonus because it is contractually obligated to do so. It certainly isn’t morally obligated.

It’s eerie, the similarities between the Penn State and Rutgers scandals, except that Rice was not an institution on campus like Joe Paterno. But Rice was verbally and physically abusive to his own players, repeatedly, scarily abusive. And I don’t want to hear the old argument that “this is what has always happened.” I don’t believe it — I’ve been to my fair share of sports practices — and if it is what always happens, it needs to stop, immediately. To find excuses for this man shows a cluelessness that borders on the criminal.

Some members of Rutgers faculty have called for Barchi to resign, pointing out — rightly — that if a professor behaved in this manner, he would be gone by nightfall. And good riddance.

Shrug it all aside with the usual “this is just more political-correctness garbage” argument if you want, but it’s time to stop considering political correctness some kind of disease. Sometimes it may be a crutch, but let’s also recognize that what passed for political correctness today is what used to be considered kindness. Don’t call people names. Don’t throw balls at them. Don’t insult their heritage, or their orientation. Is that being politically correct, or should they be lessons learned in childhood? If your answer is the former, then your parents need to try, try again.

College sports is a mess, and the Ware injury and the handling of the Rice situation are just the latest examples. They won’t be the last.