Arkansas running back Ben Cowins told a federal judge today the disrobing of a girl in an athletic dormitory was "a playful act" and did not justify the suspension of himself and two other teammates from the Orange Bowl-bound Razorbacks football team.
Cowins, the second leading rusher in the soutwest conference this past season, and two other black players - running back Micheal Forrest and flanker Donny Bobo - have sued the University of Arkansas, asking for immediate reinstatement to the team in time for Monday night's game in Miami against No. 2-ranked Oklahoma.
The class-action suit, filed by Arkansas civil rights attorney John Walker, also charges the university with discrimination against black athletes.
In the hearing before Judge Terry Shell, Cowins related for the first time details of the incident that led to the players' suspension.
"Some of the girl's clothes were removed, by whom I don't know," Cowins told Shell.
"It was a playful act. The incident was completely under control. It was understood by all parties what was going on."
Cowins said there were about 10 people in the dorm room of freshman Trent Bryant, including at least one girl. But when asked to name those in the room, Cowins balked.
The case was recessed until Thursday morning to allow Cowins time to confer with his attorney.
The three players - all black and all starters on the 10-1 Razorbacks - were removed from the squad by Holtz shortly after the Dec. 20 incident in the players' dorm.
Cowins claimed he wanted reinstatement "to clear up my reputation (because) nothing that terrible had happened" and because he wanted to "salvage what little career I have left at the University of Arkansas."
The junior from St. Louis, who was named an All-Southwest Conference running back, said the "rash judgement" by Holtz would hurt his future.
Cowins, under questioning by his attorney, John W. Walker, said that he and the other two players voluntarily gave an account of the dorm incident to Holtz on Dec. 20, the night before the suspensions from the Orange Bowl were announced.
"We told him exactly what happened," Cowins said.
"He walked to a table, sat down, and put his hands over his face and peered down. We knew something was wrong.
"He said we violated the 'Do-right' rule . . . That's 'always do right,' I guess," Cowins said.
The next day, Holtz suspended the players. Cowins testified he had never heard of the "do right" rule until the coach mentioned it.
Cowins said "Holtz later acknowledged his decision may have been "a little hasty," although the coach did not change his mind.
The players were suspended only from the Orange Bowl game. They have not been removed from the team, nor have they lost their athletic scholarships.
Holtz and the team are in Miami preparing for the game. Holtz and athletic director Frank Broyles were not required to attend the hearing.
The University of Arkansas, represented by the state attorney general's office, continueded today the court would be making a serious mistake to substitute its judgment for the judgment of Holtz in disciplining the players.
"This was a decision of the coach," Assistant Attorney General Ellen Brantley said. "An athletic team is a thing to itself. It's a tightly run thing. It requires a boss, a coach. A football coach has to have available to him the right to discipline. The court second-guessing that decision would be absolutely detrimental to the team."