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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

Still in a Very Deep Rut

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Okay, so you remember how a couple months ago Rutgers University had a sports scandal when their basketball coach Mike Rice was extensively caught on tape physically and verbally abusing players. (I wrote about the story here.) Rice lost his job, as did the man who hired him, athletic director Tim Pernetti. To clean up the program, Rutgers hire Julie Hermann as the new A.D. She previously had been the assistant athletic director at the University of Louisville. She's scheduled to start on June 17.

There's a problem, though, you see. It's hard to know whether the problem is more "big" or "bizarre."

The Star-Ledger in New Jersey reportsthat 16 years ago Hermann quit as coach of the Tennessee women's volleyball team coach after the entire team wrote a letter claiming that she used -- are you ready? -- "humiliation, fear and emotional abuse."

Seriously. And, no, this isn't The Onion.

In their letter, the players wrote, "The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," noting that among other things Ms. Hermann called them "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled." They added that, "It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue." The players tell the Star-Ledger that when the team held its final meeting with the coach, her response was, "I choose not to coach you guys."

The Star-Ledger writes:

Their accounts depict a coach who thought nothing of demeaning them, who would ridicule and laugh at them over their weight and their performances, sometimes forcing players to do 100 sideline push-ups during games, who punished them after losses by making them wear their workout clothes inside out in public or not allowing them to shower or eat, and who pitted them against one another, cutting down particular players with the whole team watching, and through gossip.

Several women said playing for Hermann had driven them into depression and counseling, and that her conduct had sullied the experience of playing Division I volleyball.

One of those players, Allison Stricklin Harvey, told the paper that she'd quit the volleyball team, but returned after Coach Hermann left. When it was announced that she had been named the athletic director at Rutgers, the former player's initial reaction was, "I like to think she has evolved." But when she saw pictures of her former coach, her attitude reversed. "It just put a pit in my stomach."

How much of the charges are true is one matter, though the letter and unanimity do add substance. But two issues stand out.

One is Julie Hermann's response when the Star-Ledger contacted her. "I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever." The word "whore," she said, is "not part of my vernacular. Not then, not now, not ever. None of this is familiar to me,"

That is just too unbelievable to me. I would understand someone explaining the issues away as overblown or taken out of context or such. But to say you've never heard of it and it's all completely unfamiliar when an entire team makes the charge and sent a letter belies any credibility. (And "None of this is familiar to me" is such a strange phrasing and defense, not that that's proof of anything. But it certainly goes out of its way to leave the door open for questions.)

The second issue, though, is the most notable one for me in all this. It's that for a school like Rutgers that specifically is trying to clean up a scandal of physical and verbal abuse by a coach -- what on earth kind of due diligence are they doing?? Is anyone in charge there?! Even if the story turns out to be, bending far over backwards to be fair, overblown and taken out of context, it would seem that when you're trying to clean up a scandal-ridden program, you don't even want overblown and context -- you want pristine. You want someone who has a career known as impeccable, not one that at best dances awkwardly around the edges.

And how thrilled the Big Ten must be for bringing Rutgers into the conference next year.

As I also wrote in another post that an old musical, High Button Shoes had a song called, "Nobody Ever Died for Dear Old Rutgers" (sung by Phil Silvers, which I embedded here). It seems that not only is that song wrong, but the bodies keep piling up.


To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about other matters from politics, entertainment, technology, humor, sports, and a few things in between, visit Elisberg Industries.

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