- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Rutgers' public relations nightmare isn't over, and the school without a clue has managed to offend its most popular recent alum.
You probably heard about Condoleeza Rice's decision to back out of giving Rutgers' commencement speech after students protested her involvement in the Iraq War as former U.S. Secretary of State. The Rice situation, while not casting the best light on Rutgers, isn't unusual on politically charged college campuses.
Rutgers needed a replacement speaker. Eric LeGrand, the former Scarlet Knights football player whose response from a devastating spinal cord injury has inspired millions, hoped his alma mater would ask him to fill in. It did on Saturday. Greg Jackson, the chief of staff for Rutgers president Robert Barchi, told LeGrand to talk with his family and get back to him on Monday. LeGrand planned to formally accept the offer then.
What could possibly go wrong?
Rutgers offered me the commencement speech this weekend and I was going to accept but they decided to go other ways for political reasons
— Eric LeGrand (@EricLeGrand52) May 6, 2014
While LeGrand flew home to New Jersey, thinking about what he would say at commencement, Rutgers announced that former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean would be giving the address instead. According to LeGrand, athletic director Julie Hermann later called him to inform him of the change.
Rutgers doesn't officially join the Big Ten until July 1, but it already leads the league in public relations disasters, several of which, like this one, easily could have been prevented. Many are once again asking why the Big Ten admitted Rutgers. That answer hasn't changed and won't change. But the grumbling isn't going away.
Condoleeza Rice is a somewhat controversial figure because of her political past. Eric LeGrand is not only a safer choice to speak at commencement but an extremely smart one. He has given motivational speeches around the country since his injury. He's beloved by all, particularly those in the Rutgers community.
As Steve Politi writes, LeGrand is, "the best representative of that entire university." No arguments here. No arguments anywhere.
More from Politi:
Just when you thought Rutgers couldn’t screw something up any worse, just when you thought the leadership incompetence could not climb any higher, it insults the inspirational kid in the wheelchair.
It pulls the old bait and switch on the one human being who, more than anyone I’ve ever met, lives, eats and breathes Rutgers in the most unvarnished, positive way.
The latest blunder doesn't fall on Hermann, but Barchi, whose chief of staff asked LeGrand to speak, gave no indication of a possible change when LeGrand contacted him on Monday to review logistics, and didn't answer LeGrand's phone calls Monday night.
LeGrand graduated from Rutgers in January and had planned to attend the ceremony for the school of labor and management relations on May 17, the day before the university commencement. Hermann told him Barchi still wants him to come to the ceremony to personally hand him his degree.
"I just didn't know how to feel," LeGrand told The Star-Ledger. "I was hurt. They offered me this on Saturday and then they take it back on Monday. I was like, 'Why?'"
When it comes to all things Rutgers, so many are asking that question.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney