Rutgers athletics kicks self in the butt after mastering foot in mouth

For those of you cheering the UConn men and women for winning the NCAA basketball championships this week, you probably missed the continuing fireworks and flagellation coming out of Rutgers University. But my colleague Meredith Dropkin caught them.

This is the same athletic department that lost its basketball coach and then its athletic director because the coach thought he was Bear Bryant and this was 1962. His abusing of his athletes got him fired. Then the new AD, one Julie Hermann, came up from Louisville and was promptly accused of ignoring similar complaints about a coach when she was AD there.

AD Hermann made news again this week when she declared public disdain for the Newark Star-Ledger, right around the time 167 people working there lost their jobs. Oops. Or not. She declined to apologize when given the chance by one of the paper’s columnists.

She apparently told a journalism ethics class [did she stop to think her comments might get reported out?] that:

“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”

“They might die again next month,” a student said.

“That would be great,” she replied. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”

We’re not hear to argue for commuting the death sentences most newspapers presumably face. But the insensitivity and basic misunderstanding of a journalist’s responsibility is, frankly, shocking in someone in as high a position as she.

We could probably hit every NCAA school from Alabama to Yale and not find a coach or AD who loves their hometown media. But that doesn’t mean they ignore the symbiotic relationship. That doesn’t mean they publicly wish their business fails. That doesn’t make you a smarter AD to show such insensitivity to out-of-work parents.

Wrote columnist Steve Politi:

Hermann is the public face of Rutgers athletics now. This is why, in the months following her mishandling of the Jevon Tyree bullying allegations, school officials did everything but hide her in a storage room at the Rutgers Athletics Center to keep her from putting her foot in her mouth again.

She survived that controversy, thanks to an independent investigation that didn’t even try to answer the one question … that mattered.

But you knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. Hermann has been a human P.R. nightmare since taking the job, and the response from Rutgers officials has been to dig in deeper in their support.

Maybe that’s why Hermann is rooting for reporters and editorial writers to lose their jobs – they are the only ones who seem to be holding her accountable.

Or maybe ripping The Star-Ledger is part of a plan to win over the Rutgers community, because a misguided faction of its fan base that blames the media for every problem in Piscataway will no doubt cheer her on.

But I’m betting more will see her comments as what they are: Unbefitting a person in a high-profile position at a major university, at a time when Rutgers needs a leader for its transition into the Big Ten.

Rutgers continues, more than a year later, to demonstrate facile ability to maintain a negative, crisis-based, focus on the screwups in its athletic department. It remains in crisis.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.




About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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