Steve Politi: ‘These Things Are So Avoidable’

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: Eric LeGrand #52 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights posses for a photo with teammates on Senior's Day at center field before a game against Cincinnati Bearcats at Rutgers Stadium on November 19, 2011 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. LeGrand was paralyzed during a kickoff return in October 2010.

Eric LeGrand (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Rutgers president Robert Barchi is calling it a miscommunication. John Feinstein is calling it incompetence – and perhaps even a lie.

Either way, former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand – who was invited, disinvited and invited again to speak at Rutgers’ commencement May 18 – will, in fact, be speaking.

And so, what could have been a touching, healing moment for a university still reeling from a series of PR nightmares, has been ruined.

“You can’t decide which is worse,” New York Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi said on The John Feinstein Show. “Is it a flat-out lie or are they really that incompetent that the president and his chief of staff can be offering two different people at the same time to make the speech at the commencement?”

According to LeGrand, he was invited Saturday via telephone by Gregory Jackson – Barchi’s chief of staff – to speak at graduation. Two days later, however, athletic director Julie Herrmann called LaGrand to tell him the offer had been rescinded and that the school would go in another direction.

“If that’s really what happened, then I don’t know what’s worse,” Politi said. “But this is the problem with Rutgers, and that’s what it comes back to: These things are so avoidable. This should have been a great story. That would have been a great idea. Everybody loves Eric LaGrand. Have him speak at commencement. It would have been a nice moment. It would have been a (healing moment). He’s going to kill the speech. Instead, it becomes another one of these firestorms because of a series of mistakes.”

The worst part, perhaps, is that Hermann rescinded Rutgers’ offer via voicemail, which Politi likened to dumping someone via text.

LaGrand, who was devastated by the news, explained what happened via Twitter.

“It spirals to this point where Eric – a kid who loves Rutgers more than anybody I’ve ever met – put this out on social media that he’s devastated,” Politi said. “The story took off from there.”

According to people close to the situation, LeGrand was as sad and as disappointed as they had ever seen him. LaGrand, 23, is also paralyzed.

“Think about that,” Politi said. “But again, I think that’s what drives people crazy. It’s so avoidable.”

In the interim, New Jersey governor Tom Kean was announced as commencement speaker and will still speak at graduation. And now, rightfully, so will LeGrand, who is graduating with a degree in labor studies.

“He’s such a great kid that he accepted the apology, and he’s going to speak at the commencement the way he should,” Politi said. “He’ll kill the speech, and in a lot of ways, it’ll be a healing moment for the university – because that’s just who he is.”

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