The Rutgers Coach Video Creates Need for Better Understanding of School Punishments

By Artur Radetskiy

Recently, highly controversial footage was released that showed Rutgers University head basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his players during team practice. This footage exposed Rice for throwing basketballs and yelling homosexual slurs and other profanities at his players.

Rice, who has a history of anger management issues, has been fired by Rutgers University [i]. While different states have different regulations regarding teachers and coaches, teachers are universally prohibited from using corporal punishment or verbally abusing their students.

Corporal punishment is defined, by the New York City Board of Education, “as any act of physical force upon a pupil for the purpose of punishing that pupil.”[ii] Although a student’s parent or guardian might approve of it, corporal punishment is prohibited. The use of physical force is not allowed unless it is used to protect oneself, another student or teacher, or school property.

Verbal abuse is defined, by the New York City Board of Education, as discriminatory language, language that ridicules the student, and language that causes fear or distress.[iii] Although the definition of verbal abuse seems clear, teachers can verbally abuse their students without realizing it.

If corporal punishment or verbal abuse is reported, the school conducts an investigation. The investigation is similar to a regular police investigation, but is conducted by the school principal. During the investigation, the principal often interviews and takes written statements from witnesses, meets with the accused teacher, draws a conclusion, and determines the appropriate disciplinary action needed [ii].

While corporal punishment is easy to identify, the lines between verbal abuse and “tough love” as a motivational technique become blurred on many sports teams. Tech athletes, however, assert that their coaches use appropriate disciplinary measures to motivate and instruct them.

Nydia Peterson ’15, a member of the Girls Track team, said, “As all coaches should be, he [Coach Phil Zodda] is a no nonsense guy, but he is never mean or rude to any of the team. He may raise his voice, but would never verbally abuse anyone… Sometimes he may use someone else as an example on what not to, not necessarily targeting them, but he does it in a lighthearted joking way to get his point across.”

According to Benji Haye ’13, the captain of the Varsity Football team, coaches often give players’ extra laps or push-ups as punishment. On the team, these are referred to as “ops”, or opportunities to get better. Haye maintains that these punishments are “never to physically harm or degrade us.”

He continued, “Without discipline on a team there is no order. But there also must be some level of respect formed between the coaches and players that ensures that the players listen to coaches and vice-versa.”

Of the Rutgers coach’s disciplinary actions, Haye commented, “I feel that the actions of the coach of the Rutgers basketball team were uncalled for and completely unprofessional.”

Off the field, it can be difficult to distinguish a joke, or motivation from verbal abuse. Most students do not mind if a teacher ridicules them during class when it is treated as a joke. “What is verbal abuse depends on the relationship between teacher and student,” said Neena Garcia, a guidance counselor, “but a student should not be afraid in class.”

Some students believe that any degree of verbal abuse should not be allowed, even if the teacher meant it as a joke.

Matthew Wong ’13 said,  “I feel that this could give a positive and negative reaction to the student. I believe that the teacher should not make fun of the student in any manner just to play it safe.”

Most students do not mind if a teacher ridicules them during class, as long as it is a joke. This, however, can make it difficult to separate the teachers who are being humorous from those who are verbally abusing a student.


[i] Dolak, Kevin. “Rutgers Coach Mike Rice Fired for Video of His Kicking, Berating Players.” Abcnews. April 3, 2013.

[ii] Department of Education. “Chancellors Regulation A-420.” New York City Department of Education. May 24, 2009.

[iii] Department of Education. “Chancellors Regulation A-421.” New York City Department of Education. May 29, 2009. <>

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