Rutgers Offers Paralyzed Player Commencement Speech and Then Takes Back Offer 

Eric LeGrand was super excited when he got the offer to be the keynote speaker at Rutgers University’s graduation ceremony, but a few days later the school rescinded the offer. Now there’s an update.

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Eric LeGrand 

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Updated Tuesday, May 6, 2:18 p.m. EDT: Eric LeGrand will, in fact, speak at Rutgers University's commencement later this month, according to university President Robert Barchi, who issued a statement viewed by ESPN.com.

"It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker," Barchi's statement says. "We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate."

After receiving word that he would be speaking to the graduates, LeGrand tweeted: "After speaking with Pres. Barchi I will join Gov. Kean speaking at @RutgersU graduating class of 2014. Lets keep the focus on the graduates."

It is unclear whether it was always the intention of the school to have LeGrand speak or if the latest announcement is damage control after word got out that LeGrand's offer to speak at the school had been rescinded. 

"Eric holds a special place in the hearts of the Class of 2014 and the entire university community," Barchi's statement concludes, ESPN reports. "We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion ever more memorable."

Earlier:

Former Rutgers University defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was miles away from the place he called home during his football career. The place where a headfirst tackle would leave him paralyzed. The place that he says supported him throughout his six-year journey to earn his degree. So he was excited when his phone buzzed during a dinner with family in Florida this past weekend and he answered and it was Gregory Jackson, chief of staff for Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi, with a flattering request.

"Saturday I get a call from Greg Jackson, and they offered me the job to give the commencement speech," LeGrand told USA Today. "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 told the newspaper that the thoughts began racing through his head about what he would say. He knew that he wanted to share his story, and not just the part about the game against Army on Oct. 16, 2010, at MetLife Stadium that changed his life. He wanted to talk about persevering, working hard and accomplishing goals—all things LeGrand has done since being paralyzed.

"I was just going to tell them my story, about the whole process," LeGrand told the newspaper. "Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everybody supported me through my injury. I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life. All the things I've learned so far. All the [graduates], they're my age, so I was going to try to [say] words they could remember, words that would inspire them to do great things in life."

He told USA Today that on Monday, while LeGrand was in the early stages of planning his speech, he received another call from Rutgers. This time it was athletic director Julie Hermann, who he said told him that Rutgers officials had decided to go with someone else.

"I'm very upset about it," he told USA Today. "I was all excited all weekend thinking about what I was going to say. It's rough."

According to the newspaper, around 5 p.m. Monday, Rutgers sent a press release announcing that former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean would be the keynote speaker at the May 18 commencement.

Just two days before the announcement, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had decided against delivering the commencement address at Rutgers after several protests from students and staff about her role as national security adviser to former President George W. Bush during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"Gov. Kean's career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies," Barchi said in the statement viewed by USA Today. "Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address our graduates."

According to Pete McDonough, vice president for public affairs at Rutgers, who spoke with USA Today, Barchi did not consult with the faculty or students before deciding on former Gov. Kean but did consult with the university's board of governors.

"As Dr. Rice was pulling out, Gov. Kean's name emerged rather quickly as a potential speaker," McDonough told the newspaper. "His name came up, it received general acclaim and Bob just reached out to him. Was there a formal board process? No, but the board leadership was consulted and agreed to it."

LeGrand told the newspaper that he was given no reason as to why school officials chose to go in a different direction and noted that he had tried to reach Jackson multiple times but had been unsuccessful.

"Julie Hermann and [Rutgers football] coach [Kyle] Flood were pushing for me to do it; the whole athletics department was," LeGrand told USA Today. On Monday night LeGrand tweeted his bad news to his 130,000 Twitter followers: "Rutgers offered me the commencement speech this weekend and I was going to accept but they decided to go other ways for political reasons."

LeGrand was not only supposed to speak at the ceremony; he was also going to collect his degree in labor studies.

"I wasn't planning on going [to the graduation ceremony] until they offered me [the speaking duty]," LeGrand told USA Today. "I know that President Barchi wants to hand me my degree, but now I'm hesitant. I feel like they offered me and then changed their mind. I don't know why."

Read more at USA Today.