News and Tribune

June 12, 2013

LAMMERS: Gee owes more apologies

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

Recently, news blew up of yet another high-profile official caught on tape making insensitive remarks, ultimately leading to his ouster.

The Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee announced his retirement, effective July 1, following the publication of derogatory comments directed toward Catholics, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

The Associated Press published the comments Gee made during a speech at a Dec. 5 Ohio State Athletic Council meeting. Among the things Gee said to the crowd included a response to a question from a man in the audience about the SEC mocking the Big Ten because it can’t count  — a conference that includes 14 teams with its recent additions. 

“Well, you tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we’re doing,” Gee said in response. Gee was a former chancellor at Vanderbilt University, an SEC school, from 2001-2007.

Gee also took aim at two Kentucky schools when discussing the addition of schools to the Big Ten conference.

“Presidents of institutions are very clear that their number one criterion is to make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity. So you won’t see us adding Louisville ... or the University of Kentucky,” he said during his remarks.

But the most thoughtless “jokes” came when Gee talked about Notre Dame, a university that had been a school the Big 10 had attempted to coerce into joining the conference for years.

“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” Gee said. “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”

No, Gee, you can’t.

Unfortunately, foot-in-mouth disease is an ailment Gee has suffered from before. It’s not even the first time he made insensitive remarks in reference to Catholics. In discussing football scheduling in 2010, Gee said Ohio State isn’t scheduling “the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

The highest profile gaffe — before the comments published in late-May — but certainly not the most offensive was during a 2011 press conference addressing the NCAA investigation of then-OSU football coach Jim Tressel. Tressel lied to NCAA investigators about a player accepting tattoos for giving away memorabilia and when Gee was asked about firing Tressel, he said, “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

The university put Gee on a remediation plan after his most recent comments were made public, but last week Gee announced his retirement, assumed to be the alternative to being dismissed. 

The Ohio State University Board of Trustees put up with Gee for so long because of one reason: Fundraising. Gee’s tenure, which started in 2007, marks the second of two terms he served at Ohio State. In an email sent to university alumni notifying all of Gee’s retirement it read, “his leadership has contributed significantly to the strengthening of the university’s long-term financial condition, highlighted by his recent efforts to help raise more than $1.6 billion in private support.”

The email said nothing of his insensitive comments.

Gee made his rounds of apologies, apologizing to the Catholic church, to Notre Dame, to the SEC, to the University of Louisville and even to the Big Ten. But he missed a few people.

No, he didn’t need to apologize to U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino, as one sports columnist suggested. Pitino appeared on Terry Meiners’ WHAS radio show after Gee’s comments were made public and fired his own salvo.

“What really gets me boiling ... it’s not Louisville or Kentucky. What gets me boiling is the fact he knocks the Catholics at Notre Dame,” Pitino said. “I don’t know what denomination he is or what lord he prays to, but trying to get jokes out of that, it really, really boils me. ... It’s a pompous attitude and certainly I have a major problem with him, not with Ohio State, and he’s a pompous ass for making those statements.”

He’s right about the comments Gee made, but what benefit does he get by firing back at Gee? And Pitino’s image certainly is not squeaky clean. Pot, meet kettle.

The bigger problem is that the focus of dumb comments of the soon-to-be former Ohio State president have been turned into getting the reaction from conference athletics leaders and its highest-profile coaches. It is being shifted away from the people Gee really should be apologizing to that he hasn’t already.

He should be apologizing to the student-athletes of U of L and UK. He should apologize to the students who pay their tuition to these universities, and who are attending school to learn and better themselves. He should apologize to the faculties and staffs of the universities who are working hard to educate and enlighten young minds. 

Isn’t that the same reason why you pursued your career in higher education in the first place, Gee? Not to play stand-up comedian, right? Besides you’re really bad at the latter.

 

— Braden Lammers, OSU alumnus ‘03, also thinks Gee owes an apology to The Ohio State University alumni whose pride in the university goes beyond its athletics.