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Former Rutgers head basketball coach now apologizes for player abuse

(CNN) — Rutgers University fired head basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after ESPN broadcast a video showing him physically and verbally abusing players.

Now Rice tells CNN affiliate WABC that he’s sorry for his physical and verbal abuse. “I can’t say anything right now except I’m sorry, and there will never be a time where I’m going to use any of that as an excuse or will there be any excuse,” Rice, who was fired Wednesday, told WABC.

“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” said Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Tim Pernetti. “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.”

“You f**king fairy… you’re a f**king fa**got,” Rice appears to say during one session depicted on the video.

The video, which ESPN said features excerpts of practice sessions shot between 2010 and 2012, earned Rice a three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine in November. Administrators at New Jersey’s flagship university were under pressure from incensed state officials to dismiss the fiery coach, the network said.

The speaker of the state assembly, Rep. Sheila Oliver, D-Essex/Passaic, had called for Rutgers to fire Rice, ESPN reported.

Conduct like that captured on the video is “unacceptable not only at our state university, but in all circumstances. It is offensive and unbecoming of our state,” the network quoted her as saying.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was “deeply disturbed” by the video, spokesman Michael Drewniak said.

“It’s not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University,” Drewniak said.

ESPN got the video from former NBA player Eric Murdock, the team’s former player development director. He told the network the school fired him for blowing the whistle on Rice. The school says he was let go for “insubordinate conduct” unrelated to the video, according to ESPN.

In the video, Rice is shown several times throwing basketballs at flinching players, shoving one in the back, kicking at another. He frequently berates players in the clips.

“To see your coach physically putting his hands on players, physically kicking players, firing balls at players from point-blank range, the verbal abuse, the belittling, I was in total shock that this guy wasn’t fired, immediately on the spot,” Murdock told ESPN.

But Frank Mitchell, who played at Rutgers under Rice, told CNN what’s in the video wasn’t the norm at practices.

“From time to time, there’s some instances of throwing balls or physically making contact with players, but it only occurred from time to time, it wasn’t an everyday type thing,” he told CNN. “Obviously, the video shows it happened, but they were isolated incidents. They weren’t back to back.”

Efforts by CNN to reach Rice and Pernetti on Wednesday were unsuccessful. But Pernetti previously told CNN affiliate News 12 New Jersey that Rice’s conduct was “unacceptable and is not to the Rutgers standard.”

“That’s why we handed out the significant amount of suspension that we did and all the things that came along with that,” he said.

“I think it will affect Mike Rice wherever he goes,” Pernetti told the station Tuesday. “It certainly affects his tenure. We’re trying to do everything we can to support him. But we also had to penalize him within the process too because there are certain words that are said and actions that are taken that are not acceptable no matter who you are and where you work and certainly not Rutgers.”

The video recalled the 2000 sacking of legendary Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight in the aftermath of a videotaped incident in which he put his hand to the throat of a player. While it was another incident that finally led to Knight’s firing, it was the videotaped 1997 incident that prompted strict limits on the coach’s frequent physical and verbal outbursts and set the stage for Indiana to let him go.

It also sparked discussion about how far coaches should go to motivate players, what message such behavior sends to young athletes and how widespread such behavior is in locker rooms and practice facilities.

“Homophobic slurs? The sensitivity of people these days is amazing,” one commenter wrote on CNN.com.

But the majority of commenters appeared to be aligned against the coach. Many called Rice a bully.

“If you did this to your OWN child the state would take them from you!” another commenter wrote.

“What I think is stark here is how we can be surprised, at this point, by this,” former NBA player John Amaechi said on CNN’s “Starting Point” Wednesday. “You can walk on any sideline almost anywhere in America or Britain, on any given weekend, and see similar behaviors.”

Amaechi, a former NBA player who acknowledged he was gay in a 2007 book, called such conduct abusive, and said Rice should be fired.

“There is no context in the universe where that kind of behavior is acceptable. It’s physical and verbal abuse. It’s psychological and emotional abuse,” he said. “He should not be allowed near anybody. I mean forget sports, there is no context where his management style is appropriate.”

But, he said, such demeaning language is not uncommon in sports. Nor is a coach like Rice rare, Amaechi said.

“He’s just rarely exposed,” he said.

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