Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rutgers AD Julie Hermann—Abuser or “Tough Manager?”

In the news again for all the wrong reasons, Rutgers University is getting some unfavorable press for its decision to hire Athletic Director Julie Hermann, despite reports that Hermann has a history of abusing athletes.

According to fifteen members of the University of Tennessee women's volleyball team, when Hermann was their coach in the late 90s, her abuse and insults had gotten so bad they decided to join forces and confront Hermann with a letter documenting their mistreatment and their conclusion that the situation was “irreconcilable.” After being confronted, Hermann reportedly told the players "I choose not to coach you guys" and quit.

Hermann’s present-day response to these allegations?

"I was never notified of the reported letter outlining the concerns of some former athletes. However, I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach… for sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior."

That’s right, she went there. The old “I’m not abusive, I’m just a tough manager,” defense.

But wait. Before you say I’m being too quick to form an opinion, also note that Hermann was at the center of a $150,000 settlement won by a former assistant coach who claimed Hermann repeatedly made remarks to discourage her from getting pregnant. Some of these remarks were captured on videotape at the assistant coach’s wedding, when Hermann, looking into the camera, said:

"I hope it's good tonight. Because I know you've been waiting for a while, but I hope it's not too good, because I don't want you to come back February with any surprises, you know, the office and all, and it would be hard to have a baby in there."

And I don’t care if Hermann was joking. You don’t say this stupid stuff at a colleague’s wedding unless you’ve known each other since kindergarten. And even then, you’d better proceed with caution.

But what really gets me is that when questioned about the settlement and the tape Hermann said, "Was I at her wedding? They eloped? I don't even remember that, honestly.”

What the?

How does someone completely forget going to someone else’s wedding? What is Hermann, some damn dignitary, flittering about here and there, always in demand? Barely knowing where she is one minute to the next? Give me a freakin’ break, please. I don’t doubt Hermann is busy, but come on.

Not to mention, there was a settlement. How many settlements was Hermann involved in for crying out loud? Because if I’m Hermann, and my employer says, “We’re going to have to pay $150,000 because of those videotaped wedding remarks you made,” I’m going to darn sure remember you, your wedding, that videotape, and every other flippin' detail of that mess until damn near forever.

So, while I can believe that people change and that there are at least two sides to every story, something smells fishy here. Either Hermann is one of the most dense people on the planet, one of the most self-centered people on the planet, or  an outright liar. Of course, she could be all of these.

And all I can think about is the former students who say Hermann’s treatment led to depression and trauma that still hasn’t completely dissipated, even after sixteen years, and I'm sympathetic. It has to be hard to feel what they feel and listen to Hermann blithely deny responsibility while Rutgers’ administration gushes about her record and declares how much they look forward to her start date.

This is quite the story, and I don’t think it’s going away, so I’m hopeful that the truth will out. One way or another.

In the meantime, at least one member of the search committee who selected Hermann is blaming the recruiter for not fully vetting Hermann’s background, and maybe this is, in fact, the beginning of the end for Hermann, despite the good face Rutgers is putting on things at the moment. We’ll see.

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