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Rutgers has a new athletic director. Her name is Julie Hermann and she is the latest hire at the New Jersey school since the firing of men’s basketball coach Mike Rice, who was caught on camera being abusive to his players. Tim Pernetti, the former athletic director whom Hermann will replace, was forced out not long after Rice because of the scandal. Unfortunately, the Board of Regents did not at the time see fit to oust the school’s president, Robert Barchi, who was aware of the Rice situation.
But rather than calm things down, the university’s latest move has led to more public criticism from donors, politicians and the media.
What did Rutgers do wrong? It seems that Hermann was hired despite having been named in a discrimination lawsuit involving a former assistant coach, Ginger Hineline, who accused Hermann of discouraging her from getting pregnant. Hineline was awarded $150,000 in a settlement in 1997, according to an ESPN report. Hermann also has been accused by members of the volleyball team she coached at Tennessee of being verbally abusive to them. The team reportedly confronted Hermann with a letter claiming that “the mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable.” It included allegations that she called the players “whores” and “alcoholics.” That letter was signed by every player, but Hermann says she can’t remember ever seeing it.
After Hermann left Tennessee, she became an athletics administrator at Louisville, where assistant track coach Mary Banker claimed that she was fired after complaining about
Despite these issues, Barchi is sticking by his new athletic director.
Steven Plofker, a school donor, summed up the feelings of many others: “It seems to me that she’s the wrong person at the wrong time. It’s not going to allow us to move on,” he said in the Times report.
Why does this story sound so familiar? Because we have seen it played over and over again, in the Catholic Church, the military, college athletics and national politics.
We are clearly facing a crisis of morals, ethics and values. There are priests accused of being sexual predators
who are reassigned rather than excommunicated and thrown in jail. There are military commanders accused of sexual harassment and abuse who are reassigned rather than terminated and court-martialed. There is Penn State. There is Terry Sanford. There is Anthony Weiner. What is happening? Have we lost all concept of standards? Does anybody care?
“It’s absolutely not true that I referred to them with any name-calling like that,” Hermann said earlier this week about the volleyball team accusations. “That’s not part of my vocabulary. Am I an intense coach? Absolutely, as many coaches are. There’s a big canyon between being super intense and abuse.”
So all 15 of her players made it up? In any event, Hermann, after the confrontation about 16 years ago, said she didn’t want to coach the team anymore. She said she did not remember the letter. When it was read to her by a reporter from the Star-Ledger, all she could say was, “Wow.” And then, “I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever.”
Abbey Watkins, one of her players on that team, wrote an e-mail to ESPN after Hermann’s denials. “I write this in response to make sure that the pain that we went through as a team is validated,“ she said. “All of the things that were written are unfortunately true. Many of these things happened to me personally. I truly hope that Julie has changed but refuse for anyone to deny the fact that our dreams had been crushed and our hearts broken.” She added, “for her or anyone else in the room to say that meeting didn’t happen is appalling.”
In a video taken at Hineline’s wedding that she later used in her lawsuit, Hermann jokes that Hineline should not get pregnant now that she was married. Shortly after, Hineline got pregnant. Shortly after that, she was fired.
When asked about the video, Hermann said, “There’s a video? I’m sorry. Did you say there’s a video? There’s no video. Trust me.”
Hermann caught the bouquet at the wedding. But when asked about the wedding, she said, “The wedding? Was I at her wedding? They eloped? I don’t even remember that, honestly. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It’s just . . . it’s been so long for me. I can’t picture standing at her wedding, unfortunately.”
None of this seems to have affected Barchi’s view of his new $450,000-a-year hire.
Calling her someone who shares a “commitment to the university’s core values, a deep concern for our student athletes,” Barchi said in a statement, “we remain confident that we have selected an individual who will work in the best interests of all of our student athletes, our athletics teams, and the university.”
If Hermann is going to uphold Rutgers’s core values, it calls into question what exactly the university has as core values. Board members, donors, parents, students, athletes and politicians in New Jersey are going to have to do some real soul-searching about that.
If Hermann stays, we have our answer.