Rutgers University rescinded an invitation to a former student and football player who was paralyzed on the field when Gov. Tom Kean, R-N.J., agreed to speak at the school’s commencement.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice withdrew from speaking at the May 18 event after students and faculty groups protested, citing her high-level role in the Iraq War.
The school reportedly turned to former NFL hopeful Eric LeGrand, but rescinded the invitation less than 48 hours later.
LeGrand says he was informed that the school “decided to go in another direction for political reasons.”
"I just want an explanation," he 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, a former Rutgers defensive tackle, was injured during a game in 2010. He is graduating now after taking courses throughout his rehabilitation. He said he had hoped he would replace Rice when she backed out.
LeGrand noted that Greg Jackson, the chief of staff for Rutgers President Robert Barchi, “asked if I could do Rutgers a favor and give the commencement speech."
"I was like, 'Wow, thank you for offering.' He goes, 'Yeah, absolutely. Talk it over with your family this weekend. Let's touch base again Monday,'” he recalled. “I was all amped all weekend. I was like, 'This is perfect. I'm going to have to give a speech to everybody.'"
LeGrand has given motivation speeches across the country since he was injured.
“You have no idea how much I’ve been thinking about it,” he added. “I was thinking all weekend long about what I could share with the students, my experiences. I was going to take them back before when I was getting recruited by Rutgers, what made me come here, and the things I learned here, and, of course, my injury and how great it's been since then.”
By 5:30 p.m. Monday, however, he received a phone call from Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann telling him that Kean was announced as the commencement speaker.
"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?'”
LeGrand said Jackson didn't answer his two phone calls on Monday night. Now he’s not even sure if he will attend the university-wide commencement at High Point Solutions Stadium to receive his diploma from Barchi.