Former Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand, whose recovery from a paralyzing injury suffered during a game has become a unifying and inspirational story for the school, was announced Tuesday as one of its commencement speakers, a day after he said the offer to do so was rescinded “for political reasons.”
The announcement from Rutgers President Robert Barchi, who said there was a “miscommunication” about the speeches, is the latest development in a strange saga surrounding the May 18 ceremony.
The New Jersey university initially announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would give the keynote address, and school officials maintained that she would not be “disinvited” as some students and faculty protested her selection, including holding a sit-in last week. They objected largely because of her role in deciding the U.S. would go to war in Iraq.
But on Saturday, Rice withdrew from the speech.
On Monday, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who was one of the chairmen of the Sept. 11 Commission, was named as the new keynote speaker.
Hours after that announcement, LeGrand tweeted that he had been offered the chance to give the speech, but that the university rescinded the offer “for political reasons.”
Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor said when university officials spoke with LeGrand, they may have given the impression that he was to be the keynote speaker, when that was not the plan. LeGrand will speak before Kean at the ceremony.
LeGrand did not return a message from The Associated Press seeking further details.
Later in the day, though, he tweeted that he had spoken with Barchi and would be speaking at commencement. “(Let’s) keep the focus on the graduates,” he wrote.
Before the resolution was announced, he told NJ.com that athletic director Julie Hermann told him on Monday that Rutgers had decided to go with another speaker. Trevor said he would look into that assertion.
In his statement Tuesday afternoon, Barchi said LeGrand had been invited as one of multiple speakers.
“It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate,” Barchi said. “Eric holds a special place in the hearts of the class of 2014 and the entire university community. We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion ever more memorable.”
LeGrand also will receive a degree at the ceremony.
He was paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle on a kickoff during a 2010 game against Army. He now is able to breathe on his own and stand upright with the help of a metal frame.
LeGrand is known mostly for his hopeful outlook. He has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, helped with Rutgers football broadcasts, become a motivational speaker and signed a symbolic contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they were coached by his former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. Last fall, LeGrand became the first football player to have his number retired by the university.
LeGrand told the Home News Tribune of East Brunswick that he was mapping out what he would say in a speech. “I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life,” he said. “All the things I’ve learned so far.”
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