Karen Heller: Abuse of athletes: Rutgers still doesn't get it

JulieHermann was an administrator at Louisville when an assistant coach sued over dismissal. MEL EVANS / AP
JulieHermann was an administrator at Louisville when an assistant coach sued over dismissal. MEL EVANS / AP (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: May 30, 2013

Behaving badly is its own punishment, I taught my children. People who act poorly generally get what they deserve.

Though, apparently, not in NCAA Division I athletics.

At Rutgers, bad behavior means being named athletic director with a plum $450,000 salary and up to $50,000 in annual bonuses.

This is the same Rutgers that last month ousted its basketball coach for abusive behavior, along with the athletic director for allegedly failing to take action. An assistant coach and university lawyer also resigned.

Julie Hermann, Rutgers' first female athletic director, does not signal a fresh start for the Scarlet Knights.

As the University of Tennessee volleyball coach, she was so withering in her behavior that all 15 players signed a letter, the Newark Star-Ledger reported, that claimed "the mental cruelty that we have suffered as a team is unbearable." Many players went public with stories of years of humiliation and abuse.

Former Rutgers coach Mike Rice called players "faggots" and "sissy bitches," and a sewer of other names that cannot be printed here, while hurling basketballs at their heads and crotches.

Hermann, according to the team letter, called her Lady Vols "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled."

However, there is no evidence of her tossing balls at them.

So, perhaps, this passes for progress.

Also, that gender equality means a female coach can be every bit as destructive as a man.

Hermann appears to have a casual relationship with the truth or a highly selective memory. When confronted with the coaching allegations, Hermann said she didn't remember the 1997 protest letter signed by her players, which resulted in her quitting on the spot.

Hermann did not recall being a bridesmaid at the 1994 wedding of an assistant coach, who later charged her with discrimination. Instead, Hermann claimed the assistant eloped, and she forgot about making disparaging comments about the bride's desire to have a baby, recorded on the wedding videotape. The assistant was later fired after becoming pregnant - Hermann claims it was due to poor performance - and successfully sued, winning a $150,000 jury verdict.

Rutgers president Robert Barchi, who has presided over two athletic department scandals in as many months, defended his new director: "Looking at Julie's entire record of accomplishment, which is stellar, 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."

Let us remember that Rutgers recently paid $475,000 to terminate Rice, and $1.2 million to former athletic director Tim Pernetti for not acting swiftly enough. Pernetti insisted, in a letter made public, that he wanted to fire Rice in December but "decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved."

Pernetti, who came from a background in sports broadcasting with zero experience in college athletics, is the man who helped move Rutgers into the lucrative Big Ten. The move seemed to be all about television contracts and money, not student athletes.

Two years ago, Rutgers spent $60 million on athletics yet, according to USA Today, had to subsidize the department for nearly half its expenses. Now, Rutgers appears to be subsidizing the dismissal of athletics staff, as well as conducting searches for their replacements.

Gov. Christie has been famously tough on public school teachers.

Barchi and Rutgers' athletic department? Not so much.

Last month, Christie said: "This entire incident was regrettable, and while it has damaged the reputation of our state university, we need to move forward now on a number of fronts, which provide great opportunities for Rutgers' future."

How's that working for you?

Christie said Sunday he will meet soon with Rutgers officials about the latest crisis. He should start with Barchi. Meanwhile, Hermann is set to begin work June 17.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, Follow her at @kheller on Twitter. Read the metro columnists blog, "Blinq," at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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