Recently, Rutgers University (where my husband and I currently serve with Athletes in Action) has been highlighted on sports, local, and national news. Unfortunately, the noteworthy news wasn't so good. Rutgers head men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, has been accused of both verbally and physically abusing his players. How did the news catch wind of this?
A former Director of Player Operations, Eric Murdock, spoke up to athletic administration and eventually the media. Eric is getting a lot of heat for being a whistle blower, a tattletale, and I've even heard the thought that maybe our society is getting "too soft" if we can't tolerate this kind of behavior [in sport]. And this hit close to home for me.
During my senior year at the University of South Florida, I spent every Monday through Friday of my Spring semester in a kindergarten classroom.... or at least that was the plan. I was assigned a kindergarten class at a Hillsborough County Public School. In order to graduate, I was required to spend ten weeks teaching full-time in the classroom. I remember my first day was a no student day, so I spent the day getting to know my teacher and helping set up the classroom. Little did I know my experience was about to go downhill and fast. My supervising teacher (the classroom teacher) had been a teacher in Hillsborough County for many many years. So when I began seeing him use physical discipline in his classroom -- holding kids heads to their desks, screaming at them while grabbing their cheeks, and dragging students across the room by their wrists -- I was disturbed. [I am shaking just putting it into words...] When I shared what I had witnessed to my professor, I was told that I could report it to the school principal, leave the internship, and cross my fingers to be replaced in a new internship situation in order to graduate on time. As I processed through my options -- graduate on time and remain witnessing inappropriate physical discipline in a public school or follow what God asked of me and stand up for the children who didn't have a voice -- I knew I had to do what was right, what God was leading me to do. So, I left my placement after just a few weeks, sat in the principals office with my professor and relayed the details of the teacher's style of discipline, and then waited for a new placement. I ended up getting replaced in time to graduate in May and by the grace of God spent the remainder of my internship with a teacher who loved her children, loved her job, and loved the Lord! Unfortunately, my original supervising teacher continued teaching and I was later informed at the end of the school year he even received performance pay. Not an overall happy ending.
So what's the connection? I feel for Eric Murdock. I firmly believe he will, unfortunately, suffer condemnation for doing the right thing. And no, I don't want to debate whether Mike Rice's actions were right, wrong, or acceptable in college athletics. But from what I've seen, Eric did what he believed he HAD to do. He HAD to speak up for the players who weren't in a position to do so. I think it was probably eating him alive inside... and I know that feeling. During my few weeks in my initial internship placement I was getting physically sick and tearing up repeatedly throughout the school day. I commend Eric for standing up for what he believed to be right. It takes great strength to do that. Again, I know from my experience. I had to fully depend on the Lord for strength, courage, and guidance throughout that process. All in all, I am grateful to see men like Eric Murdock in the realm of athletics, men with integrity and courage. And I would venture to say, parents of Rutgers basketball players agree.
As Rutgers athletics moves forward in the wake of this, Athletes in Action specifically, will be doing so prayerfully. I trust that God is good and that He can choose to use this awful and messy situation for His glory. And similarly to Eric in this situation, God defends the defenseless! "His name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." - Psalm 68:4-5
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew something was being done wrong? Did you stand up for what was right? Did you not? How did your response leave you feeling? Was your boldness accepted? Was your integrity praised? Were you laughed at for going against the grain?