Rutgers and the Last Frontier

New Rutgers AD Julie Hermann has been accused of improper conduct while head volleyball coach at Tennessee in the 1990s. (Getty Images)

New Rutgers AD Julie Hermann has been accused of improper conduct while head volleyball coach at Tennessee in the 1990s. (Getty Images)

“Saturday Night Live’’ has been trumped, completely outplayed, by the Star-Ledger of New Jersey. Last month’s SNL parody of the Mike Rice abuse scandal at Rutgers cheaply leaned on the absurdity of a woman as a tyrannical coach. When Melissa McCarthy threw toasters at her players and tried to run them down with a golf cart in practice, condescension fueled the humor.

The sketch had the gall to imply that a female leader in the sports world could never be as shamelessly nasty as her male counterparts. Wasn’t this 2013, a whole 41 years into Title IX? Yet the SNL writers couldn’t resist the lazy, archaic stereotype. And the audience responded predictably. The laughs came too easily, especially on the third or fourth viewing, after our snorts and choking subsided.

Then the Star-Ledger gave us a proper picture of what can happen when women ascend to power in a Division I athletic department. On Saturday, the paper’s Craig Wolff reported that newly hired Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann, in her coaching days at Tennessee, had been accused of calling volleyball players “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.’’ Earlier in the week, columnist Dave D’Alessandro reported that a player had told him that Seton Hall softball coach Paige Smith would divide the team into workout groups and bestow nicknames on them, such as “aborted fetuses’’ and “booze bags.’’

Finally, the truth of female toughness had been told. These reports vaulted us into the last frontier, where women can coach as true equals, as caricatures beyond the imagination of some sketch-comedy hacks. All along, some of us knew this was possible, that men didn’t hold a monopoly on the borderline personality disorders that so often pass for motivational leadership.

It felt like a terrible slight to women when Rice became the picture of maniacal excess in coaching.  You saw the videos of him at practice. The guy exhaled hysteria. That’s supposed to be OUR thing.

The story on the new athletic director includes the kind of details that poetically signal a watershed. The wedding video that became a smoking gun. The mention of matching dresses, chokers and pearl earrings on bridesmaids. The footage of Hermann catching the bouquet thrown by soon-to-be-fired assistant coach Ginger Hineline and high-fiving afterward.

When the video shows Hermann hinting broadly that Hineline shouldn’t get knocked up on her honeymoon, the clichés about women being more supportive than competitive (except in battles for male attention) start to fray. Then we learn that Hermann fired Hineline after she got pregnant and that a jury connected those dots and awarded Hineline $150,000 in a lawsuit.

This portrayal of ruthless impropriety resonates like that historic moment of equality when a college campus finally rioted over a women’s basketball title. (Purdue, 1999.) It swells the hearts of anyone who remembers that the Olympics had no marathon for women until 1984, when they established that the strain would not make their reproductive organs spill out onto the road like mufflers from dying cars.

So cue up Helen Reddy and pop open the bubbly. We’re living the dream.

It’s not clear what will happen next to our pioneers, if they’ll accept their places in history or contest the Star-Ledger’s accounts. Before the video appeared, Hermann had already said she didn’t recall attending Hineline’s wedding. But that’s an easy oversight. She clearly has the kind of personality that lands her in more bridal parties than she can remember.

The woman whose career could really suffer from this is McCarthy. Her parody had a shelf life of just seven weeks. And if she watches the video on the Star-Ledger website, she’ll see that one of her career ambitions has already been fulfilled by another. Hermann killed in “Bridesmaids 2.’’

38 thoughts on “Rutgers and the Last Frontier

  1. Now THIS is how sarcasm is done! You’re always great Ms. Knapp, but you’ve out-shone yourself here. The dryness, the bitterness, the Mike Tanier-level commitment to the joke…Satire at its finest, and a pure joy to read. Thank you!

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