Without offering an explanation other than “political reasons,” Rutgers officials withdrew their invitation to Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers football player paralyzed on the field in 2010, to serve as the replacement for Condoleezza Rice after pushback from faculty and students forced her to withdraw from the event.
N.J. News reports that Rutgers official Greg Jackson contacted LeGrand Saturday night to ask him to deliver the keynote speech at the university’s spring commencement ceremony. However, by Monday, the university changed course, athletic director Julie Hermann telling LeGrand the school had withdrawn the invitation “for political reasons.”
No other explanation was provided, and Jackson did not return LeGrand’s two phone calls that evening. The incident has left LeGrand baffled and disappointed:
"I just want an explanation," LeGrand told NJ.com in a phone interview. "I wish somebody would have given me a call tonight and explained to me why. Then I can understand, but don't just leave me hanging.”
LeGrand said that he was given no indication by Jackson of the university’s reversal as late as Monday afternoon. But early that evening, Hermann contacted LeGrand to tell him the invitation had been withdrawn at the direction of Rutgers President Barchi.
"She told me, 'I was pushing for you, but President Barchi decided to go in another direction for political reasons. But he wants you to come to the ceremony. He wants to personally give you your degree,' " LeGrand said. "I just didn't know how to feel. I was hurt. They offered me this on Saturday and then they take it back on Monday. I was like, 'Why?' "
In place of LeGrand, the university chose to invite former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, a Republican, to replace Rice as keynote speaker.