Julie Hermann speaks at a news conference introducing her as Rutgers's new athletic director. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
We can all agree that it would have been a very bad idea for Penn State to hire a former child pornographer to coach its football team following the ouster of Joe Paterno amidst the Sandusky juvenile abuse horror show. This is Scandal Management 101, otherwise known as the law of opposites. If your last leader was an amoral cad who resigned in disgrace and also happened to be bald, you hire someone with integrity, ethics and, by all means, hair. The next coach of the New York Jets after Rex Ryan will probably make Tony Dungy look like John Belushi.
That’s what makes the goings-on at Rutgers University so maddening. In looking to move the school forward following the scandal that cost bullying former basketball coach Mike Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti their jobs, school president Robert Barchi hired former Louisville assistant athletic director Julie Hermann. After the homophobic, misogynistic invective that will define the Mike Rice era, appointing an extremely competent woman must have seemed savvy. Unfortunately, in aiming to get beyond a bullying scandal, the school hired an athletic director with a history of bullying. In attempting to show that the athletic department is not a haven for misogynists, they hired someone with a history of misogyny. And worst of all, in boasting about the depths of their research into Hermann’s past, they missed a series of incidents that a Google search followed by ten minutes of follow-up phone calls could have revealed.
One doesn’t have to go far into the past to see what makes Hermann so clearly the wrong choice for this job. In 2008, she was at the center of a sex-discrimination lawsuit at Louisville. Five years ago, track and field coach Mary Banker approached Hermann to tell her about the alleged sexist actions and “discriminatory treatment” by head coach Ron Mann. Banker then took her complaints to human resources. According to Banker’s subsequent lawsuit, “Hermann called Banker into her office and flat-out told her, ‘You should not have gone to HR.’” Banker then testified that Hermann said, “I don’t know how you’re going to work downstairs after this.” Banker was fired within three weeks.
The older transgressions involve two incidents from 1994–97 when Hermann was the volleyball coach at Tennessee. It was here that her players accused her of verbal and physical abuse, calling them “alcoholics”, “whores” and “learning disabled” as a form of motivation. It was unbearable enough that it pushed students to do something that hadn’t been seen in the NCAA since the student revolts of the 1970s: student-athletes standing as one against their coach. The entire team signed a letter that read in part, “We feel that to continue this program under the leadership of Julie Hermann is crippling mentally, physically, and most importantly to our success as a division 1 volleyball team. The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable.” They confronted her collectively in the athletic director’s office and, according to numerous witnesses, Hermann saw the letter, looked at her players, would not acknowledge any of their complaints and said simply, “I choose not to coach you guys.”