Remember the Rutgers basketball coach forced out for abusing his players? Or more to the point, for getting caught on tape abusing them?
Former head coach Mike Rice was fired after the video went viral last month. Athletic director Tim Pernetti left over the scandal, too — after initially insisting, even after viewing hours and hours of tape of Rice in action, throwing basketballs at players as hard as he could and calling them “faggots,” that as a first-time offender Rice ought to be kept on.
Well, according to a report in the Star Ledger, newly-named athletic director Julie Hermann — the woman brought in to fix the damage — was herself forced out of a coaching position under all-too-similar circumstances 16 years ago, at the University of Tennessee.
The Star Ledger quotes a number of women who played volleyball for Hermann there as saying that all 15 players on the team signed a letter declaring that they could no longer play for Hermann, who they said “ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse.”
“The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable,” the players reportedly wrote. She’d called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled,” the letter said, “It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue.” In response, according to the story, Hermann said she chose not to coach them any more, and briefly moved into administration before leaving for Louisville, where she’s been assistant athletic director ever since.
Hermann told the newspaper that she remembers none of this, and is “mystified” by the allegations: “I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever.” She said she’s never even used the word ‘whore.’ That’s “not part of my vernacular. Not then, not now, not ever.” And she remembered nothing about any letter. When a reporter read her a copy of it, she said, “Wow.”
Her boss for the last 16 years, Louisiville Athletic Director Tom Jurich, told the Star-Ledger that he’d “never seen anything but impeccable behavior” from her in all that time. “I knew things didn’t end well,” in Knoxville, “but that happens to a lot of coaches at a lot of places.”
So it would seem. There are other issues in Hermann’s past as well: In1997, a jury awarded $150,000 to a former assistant coach who claimed Hermann fired her for getting pregnant. Hermann says the woman was fired strictly for her performance.
As much as we’d like to think that women in positions of authority are less likely to condone abuse, it doesn’t always work that way. And as much as I’d like to see the theory tested that more women in charge would result in less abuse of all kinds, I’ll meanwhile have to go on thinking that as in all things, it depends on the person.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and She the People anchor. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.