Erin Zammett Ruddy - Author. Writer. Blogger. Survivor.
  • My Take On The Rutgers Scandal

    May 29th, 2013
    Last September, a bunch of us got together in Knoxville for a football weekend. At the end of the day, we're all still proud to be Vols.

    Last September, a bunch of us got together in Knoxville for a football weekend. At the end of the day, we’re all still proud to be Vols.

    By now you’ve probably heard about the (latest) Rutgers scandal: Julie Hermann, the newly-appointed athletic director—hired in the wake of the Mike Rice throwing-balls-at-players’-heads-debacle—was herself an emotionally abusive coach. Yep, you read that right. I played volleyball at the University of Tennessee from 1996 to 1997 under Julie. I was one of the 15 players you keep hearing about on the news, the ones who wrote a letter detailing her behavior stating that, among other things, Julie “succeeded in taking a sport we have all dedicated our lives to and making it the enemy.” And it’s all true.

    On April 3, I wrote a post for my blog about Mike Rice’s abusive tactics and in it I referenced my experience at UT. I didn’t name my coach—it was never my intention to drag up the past—but now I can tell you it was Julie Hermann. So you can imagine my surprise when a few of my teammates facebooked me to say that Julie had just been named the new athletic director at Rutgers. My mouth literally dropped open. And it has continued to drop every day this story has been out, growing uglier and uglier.

    Last week several of Julie’s former players were approached by Craig Wolff, a Newark Star Ledger reporter who had dug up some pretty unsavory stuff from Julie’s time at UT. Including our letter. Eventually he called me and I gave him a little background info and confirmed what he was hearing from other players, but I did not go on the record. I was (literally and figuratively) on the sidelines for much of my short tenure as a UT volleyball player. It was a long time ago. I didn’t have much to add and I didn’t want my name involved in what I knew would become a media circus. I am a magazine writer and a blogger and a leukemia survivor and a major advocate for cancer research. I am a mother of two young kids with a third on the way. Like my teammates, I have moved on from my experience at UT.

    But here’s what I told Wolff and what I’ll tell you now with my name attached: After our 96/97 season, the team got together—sans coaches—to figure out why we were all so miserable and why we felt so much animosity toward one another. We quickly realized Julie was the common denominator.  The letter you’ve seen referenced was written as a result of that meeting. We carefully crafted it, signed it simply “The Lady Vol Volleyball Team,” then brought it to Joan Cronan, our athletic director. Joan called a meeting with the entire team—held in the women’s basketball locker room, which, rightfully so, was way nicer than ours—and we shared our grievances with Julie face-to-face. There were a lot of tears. It was not easy. In addition to the bad times, there had been good times with Julie and this was not the way any of us thought our careers at UT would unfold. But, as the letter stated, it was an irreconcilable issue. After the meeting, Julie walked out and many of us never saw her again. I know I never did.

    What’s important to know is that 16 years ago, our intention was to see Julie go because there was no way any of us could continue at UT with her at the helm. Our intention today is not to see her suffer or to take her down in any way. None of us wants that. It is simply to tell the truth because we were asked. And because it is relevant. But we have all moved on from that time. Julie has moved on. And just because she was a bad coach doesn’t mean she can’t be a good administrator. Maybe her experience with us made her a better administrator. Who knows? Sure, she made mistakes but she paid for them at the time by losing her job at UT. It’s only because she was hired at Rutgers—Rutgers!—in the wake of an abuse scandal that our past experience is even relevant. And it is, don’t get me wrong. Everything in that letter is true. But I agree with what many are saying: This reflects worse on Rutgers than it does on Julie.

    That said, the reason I have chosen now to speak up is that the blatant denial from so many of the key people involved, people who were handed the letter, people who were in that meeting, is shocking. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is questioning our credibility. I am not commenting on the other baffling memory lapses, just on the one that affects me. My teammates who shared their painful experiences and who went on the record are essentially being called liars and I can’t stand by and let that happen. Not when I have the platform to make a statement of support. To hear our credibility and our motivation called into question is infuriating. For the past few days, we’ve been fielding nonstop calls and emails and facebook requests from producers and writers all over the country. Many of us (myself definitely included) do not want to go on TV. We got dragged into this and we want it to end. We want to get back to our lives. But that doesn’t mean we don’t stand by what we did 16 years ago and the comments we’ve made over the past few days. I do not want anyone to think that we conspired against Julie in any way or that we were untruthful in any way.

    My name is out there at this point (and our team photo has been flashed on nearly every network) and that’s why I’ve decided to write this post. On my own blog where I can control the message. To come forward to vouch for what went on, to vouch for my team and for the letter and to say that none of us wants this ugliness on our hands. We want to move on just as we did 16 years ago. We were young, Julie was young, no one was perfect. Mistakes were made and the problem was solved. And while it wasn’t easy for many of us on the team, we worked through it and we persevered. The best part: My teammates and I are still friends (on facebook and in real life). And, above all, we’re proud to have been Lady Vols. My hope now is that we can all move on for the last time.



13 responses to “My Take On The Rutgers Scandal” RSS icon

  • I saw Julie and the controversy on the news Saturday night. As a longtime reader, I wondered if she was coach during your time at UT. Now I see that she was. I am impressed with how your team handled this – so many people simply don’t speak up. I’m sorry such young athletes had to go through this hard time. It’s just a game. Good luck to you in upcoming weeks.

  • Thank you for writing about it. Thanks especially for blowing the whistle on people denying the truth and doubting your credibility. A big part of parenting is to help children learn how to stand up for the truth and stand up for themselves against unfairness. Your kids might be too young to read it or understand it now, but they can discover it later and learn from mom’s integrity.

  • Erin, it’s good to see someone who was there comment on this issue. You mentioned those who have denied your account, mentioning specifically an assistant coach and Chris Christie. How about Julie Hermann, whose reaction when asked about it was to say she didn’t remember it?

    Who would be able to forget an experience like this? I’m sure you remember key moments in your life, such as getting married, graduating from college, losing a job. Could you address Hermann’s sudden memory lapse regarding this letter and how that makes you feel? Thanks.

  • Way to stand up for the truth. We all believe you. There’s no reason for you to make this up.

  • Thank you for this blog. I am a Rutgers alum and I also played volleyball at the school. I believe you and your teammates 100%. I believe you because we had our own horror story going on in the 80′s with our coach. I am sure Ms. Hermann has changed. We all have. The problem is that her past is not the right fill for the AD job at Rutgers, following the abuse scandal. I am sorry that you and your teammates are being dragged into the mess my school has created. I hope this passes quickly and you can continue to move on with your lives and families.

  • I’ve read about this issue a lot. These are by far the most enlightening words I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Thank you for doing the right thing and for speaking the truth, even though I’m sure it would be easier to stay silent and run the other way! That’s why we ALL love you.

  • Thank you for setting the record straight regarding what happened w. Ms. Hermann and the Lady Vols Volleyball team

  • This is certainly a crazy story, and judging from the continued coverage, it doesn’t sound like it’s going away anytime soon. Thank you for adding some first hand perspective here. Whether or not these past transgressions will impact her ability as an AD, it seems like they definitely should have been a factor during the hiring process.

  • I left a comment about this on your last blog – and I have to say, I’m so impressed with how you responded. I’ve been reading your blog since it’s been on glamour and you’re a class act.

  • I don’t know how anyone can ‘forget’ being in a wedding nor key events. If her memory is THAT bad, it is just another reason why she’s not right for the job.

  • So sorry for your issues at UT, I am a Louisville fan and although I don’t know Julie on a personal basis other than to speak to each other as we meet on the street, I was really surprised when all this became public.

    I do know some of the coaches at U of L who worked closely with her and I have never heard them say anything negative about Julie. In fact the opposite is true.

    I do believe you and your teammates, but I have to believe that Julie has learned from the past. One does not accomplish the things she and Jurich have done here at U of L through intimidation. I think she will continue that same progress at Rutgers.

  • Thanks so much for posting this. I was bullied by a coach in high school. I often wondered if I would have been able to play at the next level if I hadn’t been taught to hate my sport and distrust coaches.

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