Eric LeGrand Will Speak at Rutgers Commencement After Confusion over Invitation

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

Sep 14, 2013; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights former player Eric LeGrand comes onto the field at halftime of a game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles for his jersey number retirement ceremony at High Points Solutions Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: John O'Boyle/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Updates from Tuesday, May 6

Rutgers has released a statement saying that Eric LeGrand will speak at commencement:

Eric LeGrand will speak at our Commencement and personally receive his degree from me as a representative of the Class of 2014.

It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate.

Eric holds a special place in the hearts of the Class of 2014 and the entire university community. We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion even more memorable.

LeGrand spoke about the reversal on his Twitter account:

Original Text

The Rutgers athletic department may want to consult with the Rutgers public relations department.

The Scarlet Knights have had some problems over the past year, between former basketball coach Mike Rice's player abuse; massive budget deficits; athletic director Julie Hermann's checkered past at Tennessee and Louisville; and Hermann implying that if The Star-Ledger went out of business, it would be "great."

In short, Rutgers needed a good injection of PR, and that would've been accomplished with former football player Eric LeGrand giving the school's commencement speech May 18.

But Keith Sargeant of the New Jersey Press Media group reported the offer was rescinded:

"Saturday I get a call from Greg Jackson and they offered me the job to give the commencement speech," LeGrand said. "I was like, 'Wow, thanks for the opportunity,' and he said, 'Let’s touch base Monday and talk about it.' So I was telling my friends and my family, everybody was so excited."

LeGrand was in the beginning stages of planning his speech Monday when he said he received a call from Rutgers athletics director Julie Hermann, who he said told him Rutgers officials decided to go in a different direction.

LeGrand couldn't keep his disappointment bottled up, tweeting out that Rutgers took the offer away "for political reasons":

The university chose former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean instead.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 11:  (L-R) Actor Rob Lowe and recipient Eric LeGrand with the Jimmy V Award for perseverance on stange during the 2012 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

For those uninitiated, LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck during a game versus Army back in 2010. His story has served as an inspiration for many to make the most of their situation and not focus on the negatives. The Scarlet Knights retired his number, 52, in 2013.

LeGrand likely would've given a great speech to the outgoing graduates, and he was certainly a worthy choice after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed out.

Needless to say, the Scarlet Knights were buzzing across social media:

The university is certainly testing the "any press is good press" axiom. Just when you think Rutgers athletics has avoided any sort of negative attention for a while, something like this happens.

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 Jer
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Perhaps some wires got crossed and LeGrand wasn't actually offered the role but was instead only a candidate, or something to that effect. Maybe he misunderstood Jackson's call.

Perception is reality, though, and right now, Rutgers couldn't look much worse. This is yet another reason for the school to get dragged through the mud.