Julie #Hermann: Not Just A #Rutgers Issue (I’m Looking at You #Tennessee)

I follow the University of Tennessee Lady Vol Athletic programs. I started following them the way of many non-alum by way of their program flagship for women’s athletics, the basketball program which until this year had been coached under the legendary Pat Head Summitt.

I am not sure where the line is on Hermann and saying 1996 was a different ‘era’ (it has been 17 years) as far as how players expect (yes, I wrote expect) to be treated.  In the article published in the NJ Star-Ledger, the paper reports on a letter delivered to Joan Cronan (then the AD for the women’s athletics department, Tennessee merged their programs less than 5 years ago) which The Star-Ledger summarized as:

“Their accounts depict a coach who thought nothing of demeaning them, who would ridicule and laugh at them over their weight and their performances, sometimes forcing players to do 100 sideline push ups during games, who punished them after losses by making them wear their workout clothes inside out in public or not allowing them to shower or eat, and who pitted them against one another, cutting down particular players with the whole team watching, and through gossip.”

The letter was given to Cronan in the spring of 1997.  1997 is a critical year in the time line: the basketball team had just completed their second title run during which the team had 10 losses.  HBO would run a documentary called A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back. The promotional information from DCTV?

“Winners of the 1996 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, the University of Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers seemed poised to contend for the trophy again. But halfway through the 1997 season, the team were not living up to their promise. They were losing almost every important game of the season. Injury to a star player, Kellie Jolly, didn’t help. It seemed that even the remarkable efforts of Chamique Holdsclaw would not keep the team from falling apart. Could this team really win again?

A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back follows the legendary Lady Vols for an entire season, from 6:00 am torture runs to inside the locker room, from the bench during games to bus rides, broken bones, and broken hearts. You will feel like a member of the team as they turn tears into triumph at the 1997 NCAA Championship.

The film also captures the intensity and drive of Pat Summitt, the Tennessee coach, as she molds her team into winners.”

In her second book, Pat Summitt states, Raise the Roof, Pat Summitt writes “Anybody who had gone through our 29-10 season had run miles and miles of wind sprints” (page 32).  The 29-10 season? The 1996-1997 academic year. Later in the same book, Summitt discusses the relationship with the off guard in the 1997-98 team which would win a third consecutive national title “You’re being selfish and stubborn.  You are acting like a brat.  Is that who you really are?” (page 168).  Summitt states this was offered as a challenge to then freshman Semeka Randall.  Name calling a player by a high profile coach, later acknowledged in a published book: zero consequences.

There is more from the same book:

To LaSonda Stephens in an open practice “You need to grow your little ass up”.  (page 196)

Bringing a copy of an unflattering newspaper article to Semeka Randall for her to read.  (page 208)

From Pat Summit’s first book, Reach for the Summitt:

“I saw the spot on the wall where I had thrown a cup of water in frustration with my center, Abby Conklin.” (page 4) in the presence of Conklin and the coaching staff (page 16).

Making a team practice in un-washed game day uniforms (page 107-108).

Notice a pattern here? The difference, of course, is that Pat Summitt’s players didn’t revolt.  The stories in and around the Lady Vols program around Pat Summitt are legendary.  For many years, Pat Summitt was considered THE coach in women’s athletics.  A young volleyball coach arrives to Knoxville and bears witness to behaviors which has created a beloved coach and a winning program.

Fast forward 20 or so years, where are the criticisms for the University of Tennessee for not investigating (remember, Hermann quit coaching and became an administrator at Tennessee) now? The outcry in Knoxville is a bit alarming.  Yes, Summitt stepped down due to early onset Alzheimer’s but her behavior of disrespect to players was openly accepted.  And Hermann’s replacement? 4 transfers this year under heavy questioning over verbal abuse of players.

I don’t know where the line is; I do know this.  I don’t believe for one second Hermann forgot all of the incidents (maybe some of the finer details) but her behavior on the Knoxville campus mirrored the documented behavior of the iconic basketball coach that continued after Hermann’s departure from the Knoxville campus.

Where is the line in the sand? And why is only one former coach being criticized?

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