One of the most prominent athletic officials in New Jersey has apologized after admittedly describing Adolf Hitler as a “good leader” during a presentation at a local high school last week.
Joe Piro, the athletics director at Nutley High School in Nutley, N.J., revealed himself as the guest speaker who made the controversial remarks on Saturday and acknowledged his point had badly missed the mark.
“The presentation wasn’t to offend anyone in or outside the Madison public school district,” Piro said in a statement. “I am truly sorry if I did. As a 20-year educator who’s worked with a wide variety of students that come from very diverse backgrounds, I fully understand and recognize that Adolf Hitler was an evil man who used his skills in a horrific manner.”
The apology comes just days after Piro, who’s credited with helping shape some of New Jersey’s most important sports policies, gave a weekend presentation on leadership to a group of Madison High School student–athletes in which he described Hitler as a “good leader” with “bad moral character and intentions,” NJ.com reported. All students playing spring sports were required to attend the Saturday assembly meant to promote “positive leadership values and a culture of sportsmanship.”
During the presentation, the guest speaker showed photos of notable leaders, including former U.S. presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and a side-by-side of the Nazi leader with civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. Piro later explained he was only trying to “make the point that a leader could have strong leadership skills that influence people in a negative way.”
The message didn’t go over well with parents, however.
On Sunday, Madison Superintendent Mark Schwarz sent home a letter to parents apologizing for the incident. Schwarz did not name Piro in the letter, but described his presentation as “unnecessarily provocative and insensitive.”
“It was unnecessarily provocative and insensitive for the speaker to include the image of a criminal whose legacy includes the systematic torture and slaughter of millions of Jews, the disabled, and others in Eastern Europe,” he wrote, adding: “If the speaker intended to highlight an example of an effective leader with misguided intentions, a less emotionally-charged example would have been more effective and appropriate.”
Schwarz noted that the presentation was not screened in advance and said some students and parents voiced “serious concerns that the speaker referred to Hitler as a ‘good leader’ in any regard.” “[The] Madison school district shares those concerns,” he added.
According to NJ.com, Nutley superintendent Julie Glazer issued a statement saying the district was unaware that Piro had participated in the leadership event and that it “shares his regret to mention Adolf Hitler alongside examples of positive leadership and over the inclusion of this insensitive reference.”
The Nutley School District “condemns all acts of bigotry, racism and hate,” said Glazer. “We believe in using this incident as an opportunity to highlight cultural responsiveness and sensitivity within our schools, curriculum and community.”