At a meeting a year ago, Julie Hermann allegedly made a tasteless joke that referenced Jerry Sandusky. This week, after Hermann apologized to the Penn State Athletic Director regarding some fan behavior at the Rutgers Penn State game, more than a half dozen Rutgers athletic department employees gave statements to the Star Ledger regarding the joke Hermann made.
Some felt that Hermann was being hypocritical in apologizing, when she herself had done the same thing. The joke was made at a professional meeting in a professional setting. Not the Blue Lot. Rutgers seems to be digging in and defending Hermann, however. Pete McDonough, the senior vice president for external affairs said in a statement:
"Julie's comment was an off the cuff response to a give-and-take interaction urging the fundraising team to reach out and touch the donors. There probably isn't a person alive today who hasn't made an impromptu remark in a private meeting that probably shouldn't have been said. Even taken out of context, this single comment was not directed at Penn State, its students, staff or faculty.''
And Rutgers President Robert Barchi also defended Hermann:
It's something that happened months ago. It was an off-the-cuff rejoinder to remarks made at the meeting. It was not directed at Penn State in any way. My feelings and the athletic director's feelings about Penn State were reflected in the personal statements we each made."
Barchi, however, refused to comment when asked if Hermann's job was safe. It doesn't appear she'll be fired because of another foot-in-mouth moment.
Hermann, however, continues to be in the news and not paint Rutgers in a good public relations light. This is just another in a long line of Hermann mis-statements.
The biggest problem for Rutgers, however, is the continuing signs that Hermann is not supported by her own employees within the Athletic Department. This was a closed door meeting, by all accounts, and yet six people there leaked the comments at a time when it would damage Hermann's reputation even more than it had been. Hermann appears to be a liability for the athletic department.
To me, the underlying issue in latest Hermann story: "More than a half-dozen people" gave statements. There's a department in revolt, folks.— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) September 19, 2014
One tends to wonder how an athletic department can function if members of the department don't have confidence in their leader. Each misstep by Hermann only sends Rutgers sends them further down a path of embarrassment. And while Rutgers fans might find it safer and easier to blame the Star Ledger, one tends to wonder how they could possibly let this story slide by after a year and a half of public relation blunders.
That's the thing, in a vacuum, this is likely a blip. Regrettable, tasteless, and embarrassing, but a blip. A story that wouldn't be leaked or, if it was, would be quickly forgotten about. But it is something that happens to Julie Hermann constantly, and each one builds on the previous story.
Hermann has some great ideas for Rutgers athletics, but her ability to execute them appears compromised. Fundraising may be up, but according to the Star Ledger article, she should receive a fifty thousand dollar annual bonus that her contract entitles her to based on "athletic, academic and financial achievement" when she reaches a certain point. She hasn't received that bonus yet. And undoubtedly, reporters will continue to dig for more dirt.
This story will likely continue to play up in the press this weekend as Rutgers takes on Navy in Annapolis. Meanwhile, Hermann needs to continue to work hard to fix the image of the athletic program and plug the leaks if she can.
Also, as we've said over and over, she should probably watch what she says.
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