Leave it to Rutgers to pull off yet another PR blunder for the ages. This time their failure involves one of the great symbols for the school: Eric LeGrand.
LeGrand, of course, is a former Rutgers football player who was paralyzed after making a tackle in a 2010 game. He has gone on to serve as an inspirational figure and motivational speaker.
After Condoleezza Rice backed out as the school’s commencement speaker amid controversy, LeGrand told NJ.com he was hoping the school would ask him to replace her. They did, and he was amped to deliver such a speech. But that was until Rutgers pulled a bait and switch and backed out.
LeGrand told NJ.com he received a phone call on Saturday from Greg Jackson, the chief of staff for Rutgers President Robert Barchi, asking him to serve as the school’s commencement speaker on May 18. This would have additional significance for LeGrand, who took classes to complete his degree in labor relations. He was stoked, accepted, and set up a call on Monday to nail down the plan.
But that all changed when LeGrand received a phone call Monday from athletic director Julie Hermann telling him the school chose someone else for the speech.
“She told me, ‘I was pushing for you, but President Barchi decided to go in another direction for political reasons. But he wants you to come to the ceremony. He wants to personally give you your degree,’ ” LeGrand told NJ.com. “I just didn’t know how to feel. I was hurt. They offered me this on Saturday and then they take it back on Monday. I was like, ‘Why?’ ”
Well, that certainly stinks. You get a guy’s hopes all up and then pull the rug out from under him like that? LeGrand will get over it, but he probably just lost some fondness for his school that he may never be able to regain. And if anything, this really shows us how disorganized Rutgers is. How can you offer such a significant position to someone and then take it away? Don’t you have things better organized than that?
Eric LeGrand and Ray Rice were among the notable former Rutgers athletes who expressed their support of athletic director Tim Pernetti (pictured), who resigned Friday amid the scandal over fired basketball coach Mike Rice.
Rice was suspended three games by the school in December after school officials saw video of him physically and verbally abusing his players in practice. Once that video was shown by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” this week, many were outraged over the coach’s behavior. There were immediate calls for Rice to be fired, and questions about why Pernetti continued to employ him.
Pernetti resigned, saying he wished he had moved to fire the coach in December. He said in his statement that the school was hesitant to fire the coach before reviewing the whole legal process.
“I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the events which led to today,” Pernetti said in his letter. “As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved.”
That may not have been entirely accurate, because some say Pernetti could have reasonably fired Rice on account of misconduct.
Former Rutgers football players Ray Rice and Eric LeGrand were supportive of Pernetti during the controversy. Rice, a running back for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, called Pernetti a “great man” and lauded him for getting Rutgers in the Big Ten.
Big 10 doesn’t happen without Mr. Pernetti He has done a GREAT job for RU, our future is bright with him leading us. #greatman
Lolo Jones came under scrutiny on Tuesday after responding to a Twitter challenge from paralyzed former football player Eric LeGrand with a few taunts.
LeGrand, who frequently tweets at other athletes, asked Jones if she wanted to race. Jones sent back a few taunting tweets before learning that LeGrand has been in a wheelchair since suffering a spinal cord injury in a 2010 Rutgers-Army game.
The Olympic hurdler began defending herself for the mishap and seemed to regret the gaffe, but she didn’t officially apologize until hours later.
“I’m truly sorry if I offended anyone by my tweet,” Jones told Yahoo! Sports’ Kristian Dryer. “When Eric challenged me to a race earlier all I knew was that he was a football player, but certainly had no idea he had become paralyzed from a football injury. I thought I was tweeting in good fun like I always do with the many athletes who challenge me to races.”
Lolo Jones figured she was just responding to another boastful athlete when she challenged Eric LeGrand to a race, but she was left embarrassed and remorseful after learning the former Rutgers football player is paralyzed.
LeGrand is a former defensive tackle who was paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury during a Rutgers-Army game on Oct. 16, 2010. LeGrand has been in a wheelchair since then, but he’s remained in the public eye because of his positive attitude and inspirational response to the injury.
LeGrand happened to tweet at Jones on Tuesday, challenging the Olympic hurdler to a race:
Jones likely saw from LeGrand’s Twitter profile that he bills himself as a defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (his former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano signed him to a one-day contract with the team), and she began taunting him in response.
“Get Checked for a concussion,” she wrote back to LeGrand. “Clearly, u’ve been hit in the head… Cos u arnt beating a track athlete.”
In a benevolent gesture on Wednesday, the Buccaneers signed Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers football player who became paralyzed from the neck down on a tackle during a game in 2010. Despite making remarkable strides toward recovery, LeGrand still remains confined to a wheelchair. That didn’t stop former Rutgers coach and new Bucs coach Greg Schiano from signing his former player to the team’s 90-man offseason roster.
“Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class,” Schiano said in a team statement. “This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men.”
LeGrand, who still hopes to walk again, reacted to the news with elation on Twitter:
This is honestly a blessing from above. I love you all keep following people believe we will make this happen
It’s unclear what type of role LeGrand will have or how long he will remain with the Bucs. But it’s fair to assume Schiano brought in LeGrand to be involved in some sort of motivational capacity. After his injury, LeGrand, with his courage and resolve, became a source of inspiration for both his teammates and many across the country.
Even a misinformed Lil Wayne was touched by today’s news:
Today Eric LeGrand was drafted into the NFL. Mark this down as a beautiful day in sports.
The saddest story of the sports weekend came Saturday in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where Rutgers was taking on Army. Late in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 17, defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was running downfield and made the tackle on the team’s kick return coverage. It was hard to see exactly how he suffered such a devastating injury, but LeGrand immediately collapsed and went to the ground with a spinal cord injury after making the tackle. The young man is paralyzed from the neck down and medical officials are unsure if he’ll walk again. Here’s the play that changed the 20-year-old’s life:
LeGrand was a 2008 recruit to Rutgers after succeeding at nearby Colonia High School. He actually played running back and middle linebacker in high school, rushing for 980 yards and 12 touchdowns while recording 115 tackles in his senior year. LeGrand bulked up when he got to Rutgers, enough to play defensive tackle yet still participate on special teams. Our thoughts will be with LeGrand and his family as he makes his journey towards walking again.