The joke's on Gordon Gee after Ohio State retirement
Ohio State president Gordon Gee did a lot of good for the Buckeyes, but the power of perception prevails here. See Tim Pernetti at Rutgers.
He had seven minutes.
Through a public relations rep, Gordon Gee agreed to meet with me for exactly seven minutes while I was on the Ohio State campus, the selection of this prime number as quirky as his fashion.
No interviews allowed. This was strictly a meet-and-greet. As I sat on a scarlet couch decorated with tiny white pillow letters spelling out “Ohio State,” Gee talked about how he’s studying up on the O’Bannon vs. NCAA lawsuit for future comments. He just finished voting on the Big Ten’s new bowl lineup. He was curious whether an NCAA subdivision for the power conferences would eventually happen. And that was it. Time to go.
This was eight days before audio surfaced that Gee insulted Catholics, Notre Dame, Southerners, the ACC, Bret Bielema and thugs everywhere during a December meeting with Ohio State's Athletic Council.
Five days later he announced his retirement effective July 1, though fed-up Ohio State officials might have force-fed Tuesday’s dismissal.
Gee had a chance to strengthen his place as a powerful president in the Big Ten. He could have taken a stand on the controversial O’Bannon case. He could have raised more money for Ohio State and retired on his own terms.
Instead, he’s the guy with the insensitive point of view that can’t deliver a joke.
Gee said in his retirement statement that he recently spent time in “self-reflection” while on vacation. Maybe he came to the conclusion that, if he really believes his own jokes, his overall outlook could use the sobering reminder a “retirement” brings.
His point of view is fair to question when someone insults several demographics before the crowd finishes a cup of coffee.
Nobody’s riding on goodwill anymore. There are a few “point of no return” mistakes, and once they are made, it doesn’t matter whether you helped balloon revenues with a move to the Big Ten (former Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti) or lived in college football folklore (Joe Paterno) or became an accomplished fundraiser (Gee). Insensitivity and negligence trump accomplishment every time, at least in administrative or coaching positions. The power of perception prevails.
Gee speaks freely, which isn’t always the case in the realm of guarded coaches and college football officials. That doesn’t mean people want to work with someone who takes shots and perpetuates tired stereotypes about the South’s literacy quotient.
Ohio State deserves credit for not allowing Gee’s comments -- especially about Catholics --to pass here. Can’t condone religious digs, certainly not from a president. OSU can find plenty of qualified replacements with athletic acumen to pair with athletics director Gene Smith and coach Urban Meyer. Keep Gee and Ohio State would have been bracing for the napalm to go off again. After all, can Gee really help himself?
At a school with a hefty donor base -- nearly $365 million in 2012 donations, according to an OSU release -- the Buckeyes can’t afford having a president who angers a large percentage of that crowd.
The 1,326 apologies Gee made in the days after the comments surfaced rang hollow because people know how he really feels now. There was too much material for contriteness. The zeal he took in sending missives, it’s as if he had 100 more drawn out on index cards, ready to deliver at the next Buckeyes function.
Let’s see what lines he has for the next SEC Academic Consortium. The SEC should send an invite.
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