Rutgers University once again finds itself and its athletic program surrounded by controversy. First there was the firing of Mike Rice after a video of his abuse towards players went viral. Then athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned after admitting he had viewed hours of tape of Rice’s behavior and did nothing.
On May 27 Rutger’s President Robert Barchi found himself facing the press once again. This time he was defending the decision of hiring volleyball coach Julie Hermann to run the university’s athletic department. He added that she was the best of the 63 candidates interviewed for the job of succeeding Tim Pernetti.
“Rutgers was deliberative at every stage of this process,” Barchi said. “Over the course of the search, Julie’s record established her as a proven leader in athletics administration with a strong commitment to academic success as well as athletic excellence, and a strong commitment to the well-being of student athletes.
Despite media reports of player abuse in 1997 and a discrimination lawsuit due to firing a pregnant assistant, Barchi insisted Hermann’s entire career is stellar. He added, “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.”
Critics, including several state lawmakers, have questioned whether Hermann is the right person to lead Rutgers’ sports program considering her past. Sixteen years ago at the University of Tennessee, then volleyball coach Julie Hermann was accused by a large group of players of verbal and mental abuse. The school athletic director brought players and coach together after receiving a letter from the players that she ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse.
“The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable,” the players wrote. Specifically, they said the coach had called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
Hermann’s recent hiring quickly started a Facebook conversation among at least 17 of Hermann’s former Tennessee players, now spread across the country. Many of them feel bonded by the trauma and an anger they still have not shed. The group includes women who played for Hermann over five of the six years she coached at Tennessee.
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 pushups 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.
On May 27, Julie Hermann held a telephone conference call with several reporters in which she denied everything and said she has no memory of her players writing the scathing letter. She said it never came up when she interviewed for the Rutgers job but has been discussed since.
“Am I an intense coach? I’m absolutely an intense coach as many coaches are. But there is a big canyon between being super-intense and abuse. And this was not an abusive environment for these women,” Hermann said.
Hermann said she has no plans to resign. “All of my life has prepared me to lead this organization,” said Hermann, who would be the first woman to serve as Rutgers’ athletic director and only the third female AD at the 124 schools playing at college football’s top tier.
“Whatever mistakes you make as a young person, you’ve got to learn from them and go and grow,” she added. “It is my intent to go to Rutgers with this vast experience of super highs and super lows and lead what I hope is an outstanding team into the Big Ten.”
Can a bully and abuser change? That remains to be seen, especially when the reporters stop watching and move on to another story. To the players: Go directly to the press if there are any more problems. Clearly the administrators at Rutgers have blinders on.