Julie Hermann

When are we going to learn?

Better yet, when are they going to learn, the ones who choose to live their lives in the spotlight?

The ones who act so shocked and aggrieved when misdeeds are revealed and the media colonoscopy ensues.

When is everyone going to learn that it’s the cover up, not the crime?

Julie Hermann’s allegedly spiteful treatment of her 1996 University of Tennessee volleyball team is almost beside the point. It’s Hermann’s selective amnesia regarding those events, and others, that have made her a national cause celebre this week for all the wrong reasons.

Hermann was an assistant athletics director at the University of Louisville for 15 years, and by virtually all accounts, a very good one.

Rutgers University recently hired her to replace an AD who was fired for not firing a basketball coach who physically and verbally abused his team. This coincidence makes Hermann’s contentious tenure at Tennessee painfully relevant, despite the 17 years that span then and now.

Here’s the upshot: Hermann was Bligh and her players were Fletcher Christian.

They penned a brief letter to Hermann’s superior detailing Hermann’s humiliating brand of discipline and sharp, acidic tongue.

Players said they were called whores, alcoholics and learning disabled. The women unanimously declared that they would not execute another dig, bump or spike for Julie Hermann.

(It is here that we are tempted to drop the word “allegedly.” The specifics can’t be proven, per se, but it’s implausible to believe that 15 volleyball players, with their scholarships hanging in the balance, would have leveled such charges on a lark. And 17 years hence, they haven’t retreated an iota.)

The people at Rutgers who hired Hermann were unaware of this mutiny.

How embarrassing.

The only material difference between the abusive situations was that the Tennessee women stood up for themselves and the Rutgers men did not.

What’s more, the Rutgers search committee was either unconcerned with or wholly ignorant of Hermann’s involvement in two sex discrimination suits at Tennessee and Louisville.

Rutgers paid an executive search firm $70,000 to, among other things, sniff out skeletons in closets. Didn’t happen.

Reporters from the Newark Star-Ledger and New York Times picked up the scent in a flash. Happens all the time.

At U of L, Mary Banker, an assistant track coach, said she was fired after complaining to Hermann about sexual discrimination by head coach Ron Mann. At UT, Hermann’s assistant volleyball coach, Ginger Hineline, said she was fired because she got pregnant.

Hineline settled for $150,000. Banker was awarded $300,000 but the judgment was overturned on appeal.

It’s not for us to judge Hermann’s culpability.

Suffice to say that Division I athletics is a sharp-elbowed milieu where eggs – and egos – are broken to get the omelets made. This does not excuse malfeasance. But any conflict must be viewed in the context of a culture that runneth over with competitive, even combative, people.

In other words, Hermann exists in a world prone to pardon certain sins of commission. Every coach has dealt with rebellious players, and every administrator has confronted a lawsuit. But obfuscation and prevarication are never well-received.

“It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up” has congealed into a cliché. Why can’t anyone remember that when their fat is in the fire?

Human skin starts to burn at 140 degrees. Hermann’s epidermis is at Fahrenheit 139. The only thing between Hermann and the blistering shame of the unemployment line is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement of her patron, Rutgers President Robert Barchi.

Christie’s benediction has for the moment compelled a mob of prominent pols and influential alumni to holster their torches and pitchforks. But nobody is singing Kumbaya. If Hermann takes over as planned on June 17, she’d better bring an armoire full of asbestos skirts. She will be sitting on a hot seat for months to come.

Rutgers Nation is divided against itself right now. One faction believes former AD Tim Pernetti never should have been fired. Another feels like Hermann was shoved down their throat by a powerful minority on the search committee. Still others want to accept the current reality and, for god’s sake, simply move on.

There are two things that Rutgersfolk can agree on: 1) They are tired of the athletics department making the entire university look like a ship of fools; and 2) They are not impressed with the way Hermann handled her skeletons being outed.

When her troubles in Tennessee came to light, Hermann fell to impersonating Sgt. Schultz, a character from the old sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” who felt ignorance was always the best defense. “I know nothing!” Schultz would shout.

Hermann knew nothing about the players’ letter of complaints. She knew nothing about her assistant’s wedding – “They eloped,” Hermann said – even though she was a bridesmaid and caught the bouquet to boot.

She knew nothing about a videotape that showed her, in a jesting yet prescient fashion, warning Hineline not to conceive a child anytime soon.

It’s painful to admit mistakes, particularly the old ones we’ve tried so hard to forget.

It must be terribly difficult to admit a mistake on the spot, in the most important press conference of your life, the one in which you realized your dream of becoming of the athletics director of a top-drawer school.

It’s even more painful to be caught in a lie – especially when the lies are unnecessary. America is a nation of sinners and penitents. We are quick to forgive. But forgiveness must be sought before you’re caught.

Hermann was a young coach, barely 32 years old, when the roof caved in at Tennessee.

She was raised in an era that celebrated and duplicated the foul-mouthed, hard-nosed methods of coaches like Bobby Knight and Woody Hayes. Multiple wrongs don’t make a right, but because most of us are creatures of our times and environments, we understand why these things happen.

We don’t understand why a person would so brazenly lie. It’s insulting. It plays the audience – and your new constituency – for chumps.

The Sgt. Schultz defense never works. It is quite literally a joke. We laughed at Schultz’s absurd pronouncements of ignorance. The futility and stupidity of it is what made it funny.

It’s not so humorous in real life.

I suggest that everyone, public figures especially, trade Sgt. Schultz for George W. Bush.

Dubya’s 2000 presidential campaign was in danger of being derailed by stories of his youthful days as a boozing, drug-using womanizer. He defused the entire issue with one short sentence that took responsibility, implied apology and struck a blushing chord with anyone who has ever screwed up for a spell.

“When I was young and irresponsible, I was young irresponsible.”

That’s all Hermann had to say.

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Mark Coomes
Mark Coomes covered sports and a dilettantish mix of other topics great and small in 20 years at The Courier-Journal, The (Monroe, La.) News-Star, USA Today, Florida Today and The Cats' Pause.

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