Why Rutgers is embroiled in an abuse scandal — again

Critics are calling for the head of newly appointed athletic director Julie Hermann

Julie Hermann, the new athletic director for Rutgers, is already under fire.
(Image credit: Getty Images/Rick Schultz)

Last month, Rutgers forced out its athletic director after an explosive player abuse scandal went public. And now, the university is being asked to take the same action again.

With accusations of past abuse already swirling around newly hired athletic director Julie Hermann, The New York Times reported Tuesday that Hermann was also involved in a sex discrimination lawsuit while serving as an assistant athletic director at Louisville in 2008. In the latter case, a Louisville assistant track coach, Mary Banker, claimed she reported a head coach's "discriminatory treatment" of athletes to Hermann, and was fired soon after. Banker claimed in a lawsuit that Hermann was to blame for her ouster.

From the Times:

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In 2008, Banker sued the university's athletic department, saying that she had been subjected to discriminatory treatment because of her sex. She said that she was ultimately terminated after she voiced her concerns to Hermann and complained to the university's human resources department, according to the complaint in Kentucky state court.

Among her concerns: the male coaches would refer to student-athletes with words that were derogatory toward women. She also said that because she was female she was instructed by the head coach, Ron Mann, to set up party tables and make food arrangements for recruiting lunches. [New York Times]

The Times story comes days after a detailed New Jersey Star-Ledger report that former University of Tennessee volleyball players had accused Hermann of verbally abusing them while she was their coach in the 1990s. In a letter written in 1997 and obtained by the Star-Ledger, players alleged that Hermann called them "whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled," and that she coached "through humiliation, fear, and emotional abuse."

Hermann claimed she never heard any of those complaints until the Star-Ledger asked her for comment, saying, "None of this is familiar to me."

Rutgers must be experiencing a sense of deja vu, having just gone through an abuse scandal that sank its men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, and AD Tim Pernetti. In that case, Rice was videotaped shoving his players and hurling basketballs at them while shouting homophobic slurs. The university fired Rice when the video went viral, and Pernetti resigned under intense pressure when it was revealed he'd known about the abuse for months, but had only suspended Rice for one game as punishment.

Hermann is scheduled to start her new post in June, but some say she shouldn't even get the chance.

Two New Jersey state senators have called on the school to fire Hermann immediately. They've also suggested that Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi should get the boot, too.

"This is becoming Comedy Central," state Sen. Richard Codey, a former governor, told the Star-Ledger. "It's an embarrassment to the students and alumni of a great university and it's time Mr. Barchi takes his show on the road.”

Even Gov. Chris Christie (R) has waded into the debate, saying that he wants to talk to Rutgers officials about the allegations.

Rutgers defended the hiring Monday morning, saying it had conducted a "rigorous and consultative" interview process that examined Hermann's entire career.

Indeed, Rutgers knew of the lawsuit yet hired Hermann anyway — which has only intensified the calls for higher-ups to lose their jobs.

ESPN's Dana O'Neil blamed the school administration for not adequately vetting Hermann in the wake of its lingering basketball scandal, saying the university was proving itself to be a "train wreck," or, to use a Jersey metaphor, "Snooki without the phenomenon."

"Rather than putting an ugly chapter to bed, Rutgers keeps authoring new ones," she said.

Yahoo Sports' Eric Adelson, likewise, said the latest incident at the school meant it might be time for more than just members of the athletics department to face the ax.

"There are two sides to every story, and Hermann surely has strong credentials, but the university needed to be clear of any shadow of discrimination or abuse after the Rice scandal," he said. "Instead it has run headlong into a more embarrassing situation."

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.