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Rutgers draws fire over athletic director's alleged history of abuse

New Jersey state senator and former Governor Richard Codey reiterated his call for Rutgers President Robert Barchi to step down on Tuesday, amid mounting critic

New Jersey state senator and former Governor Richard Codey reiterated his call for Rutgers President Robert Barchi to step down on Tuesday, amid mounting criticism over allegations that incoming Athletic Director Julie Hermann has a history of professional abuse.

“She’s a flat-out liar,” said Codey on msnbc Tuesday of Hermann, who has denied accounts of verbal and physical abuse during her tenure as coach at the University of Tennessee. Hermann has also denied allegations that she discouraged a former assistant coach, Ginger Hineline, from having a baby.

New Jersey's Star-Ledger on Saturday published Hineline’s wedding video, which features Hermann lightheartedly advising the bride against getting pregnant. Shortly after, Hineline did have a baby and was subsequently fired.

The wedding video played a central role in a 1997 discrimination lawsuit against the university that ended with a jury verdict awarding Hineline $150,000. And yet, when asked about the video during her introductory news conference at Rutgers on May 15, Hermann denied its existence.

“There’s a video? I’m sorry, did you say there’s a video? There’s no video, trust me,” said Hermann in response to a question from NBC’s Brian Thompson.

Two days later, Hermann said she couldn’t even remember Hineline’s wedding, even though the video shows her in a bridesmaid dress, catching the bouquet.

In the same article, the Star-Ledger also published a scathing letter signed by all 15 players of the University of Tennessee’s volleyball team detailing Hermann’s abusive practices, which included calling the players “whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled,” according to the letter.

“The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable,” wrote the players. “It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue.”

Months later, Hermann left to begin a 16-year run as assistant to the Louisville athletic director, a position that landed her an offer from Rutgers to become the new athletic director.

Hermann vehemently denied her former players’ accusations of abuse, calling the allegations “heatbreaking” in a statement released Monday. Hermann said that she was never notified of the reported letter, and added that while she was an “intense coach,” she never engaged in “abusive behavior.”

On the issue of Hineline’s wedding video, Hermann apologized for “misspeaking,” saying that the video, “was recorded nearly 20 years ago,” and that she “simply did not recall the video tape,” until it surfaced in media reports.

Questions over Hermann’s record come on the heels of the successive departures of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice and former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. Rice was fired on April 3 after a video was published showing him screaming anti-gay slurs and physically abusing his players. Pernetti resigned two days later.

In a statement, Rutgers President Robert Barchi stood by Hermann, who is set to begin as athletic director on June 17. Barchi said that Hermann’s selection was the result of a “rigorous” process, and that her record is one of "strong commitment to academic success as well as athletic excellence, and a strong commitment to the well-being of student athletes."

A number of New Jersey lawmakers have condemned the university for its selection of Hermann, including Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, and state Sen. Codey, who on Monday told the Star-Ledger it was time for Barchi to take "his show on the road."

University of Tennessee Emeritus Athletic Director Joan Cronan issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in support of Hermann:

"I hold Julie Hermann in high regard, and I believe she is well-prepared for her new role at Rutgers University. My recollection of the time Julie was at the University of Tennessee is that it was a very frustrating time for everyone connected with the volleyball program, which had performed far below our expectations. However, I do not recall it being an abusive situation. After Julie's sixth season as the head volleyball coach, I decided that a change was needed, and I moved Julie to a position in athletics administration. Clearly, I am disappointed that some of the players did not have a positive athletics experience at the University of Tennessee."

Watch host Thomas Roberts discuss the latest on this story with Edge of Sports’ Dave Zirin, and New Jersey state Sen. Richard Codey.