Arkansas football coach Lou Holtz agreed to suspend three Razorback players for a dormitory incident involving a coed and the players in return for the woman's promise not to press charges the Washington Post has learned.
Holtz, in his first season as head coach at Arkansas, suspended star running backs Ben Cowins and Michael Forrest and flanker Donny Bobo last week on the eve of the team's departure for the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl game here against Oklahoma. No explaination was given by Holtz at the time of his action.
The three players involved in the Dec. 20 incident in the Arkansas atheltic dorm are black. The woman is white. It is not clear what charges might have been pressed since the woman's version of what happened differs from that of Cowins.
The three players today dropped their attempt in U.S. District Court in Little Rock to seek a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to force Holtz to allow them to play Monday night.
But the attorney for the players, John Walker of Little Rock, said in a motion that a lawsuit claiming the University of Arkansas discriminates against black athletes would be continuer.
"I guess I am prejudiced," Holtz said. "I'm prejudiced to people who block and tackle.
"I just did what I thought was right. Right not only for me, but for everyone else involved.
"We don't need any sympathy. We came down here to play a helluva football game. I'm just sorry we embarrassed the Orange Bowl with all of this publicity. I know they went out on a limb to pick us.
"I just hope they don't judge us too harshly. I hope they will let us be ourselves. There's been an awful lot of negative things said about our football team, but what's most important is what's said the day after the game. We came to enjoy ourselves, but above all we came here to play a fine football game, I'm convinced we will."
Cowins testified in court Wednesday he, Forrest and Bobo were suspended after they told Holtz about the incident with the woman in a dormitory room full of about 10 football players.
"Some of the girl's clothes were removed, by whom I don't know," Cowins told U.S. District Court Judge Terry Shell. "It was a playful act. The incident was completely under control. It was understood by all parties what was going on."
"I have never had any troubles like this with a football team before," Holtz said. "I can be as difficult as anyone to get along with, but I've never had a problem with my team."
From interviews with Arkansas players and team sources here this week it was learned that Holtz could have avoided the hot seat he is on now by doing nothing.But if he had, Cowins, Forrest and Bobo - all juniors - would have been criminal charged.
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, Cowins, Forrest and Bobo reportedly decided to talk to the woman in question, according to a close friend of Cowins. The conversation took place in the room of a friend of the woman, another black Arkansas player, freshman running back Trent Bryant.
There were at least seven people in the room - Cowins, Forrest, Bobb, Bryant, two other black freshman football players, Bobby Duckworth and George Stewart, and the girl.
It was not against university rules for the girl to be in the room.
Cowins, Forrest and Bobo reportedly started quizzing the girl about what she had been saying around campus about them, and she became nervous.
In what Cowins described as "a playful act that didn't warrant his suspension," the three men reportedly began undressing the girl. She resisted.
Another white coed, hearing screams from Bryant's room, came to the room to see what was going on. She was told everything was fine and left.
She called the campus police.
Cowins, Forrest and Bobo left the room before the campus police arrived. When campus police did arrive, the woman was alone. She told the police her story and the police issued a pickup order for Cowins, Forrest and Bobo. They also asked the Fayetteville police for assistance.
The players were found, by the campus police, so the Fayetteville police did not get involved.
The three players were questioned and released. They were not arrested.
Later that night, Holtz, learning of the incident, met with the people involved. At a meeting with Holtz, the woman reportedly agreed not to press charges against the three if some disciplinary action was taken against them.
A team meeting was scheduled for the next day, Wednesday, Dec. 21. It was the last time the team was to be together before meeting in Miami the day after Christmas.
At that meeting, Holtz told the team that certain things had happened the previous night in the dormitory and, as the coach, he had to do something about it.
"We told him (Holtz) exactly what happened," Cowins testified. "He said we violated the 'do right' rule. That's always 'do right' I guess."
There was a suggestion of a boycott by 12 other blacks on the team (there are 24 black players on the 70-man team, but the boycott never came off.
"We just didn't agree with what had happened (the suspensions) because no charges were filed against anyone," said one player who thought about boycotting. "We wanted them reinstated. We really didn't know if we would play or not. We found out, though, that there was nothing we could do about it.
"If not playing in the Orange Bowl would have accomplished something, we probably wouldn't have played."
The black players on the team say Holtz has not done anything they would call racial. But some alluded to, without being specific, some incidents where they feel white players were given preferential treatment.
"We have never said that we didn't do anything we shouldn't have done," Cowins said in a prepared statement. "We only said that we are innocent of a crime and have not broken any valid school rule. We still hold to that."
Cowins said other Razorback athletes have engaged in misconduct before a bowl game but were not as severely punished. He did not cite examples.
"We thought about quitting school, but that would be a copout," the All-Southwest Conference running back added. "We are men and will demonstrate that we have what it takes to withstand any situation no matter how difficult. We will, therefore, stay in school, play for the Razorbacks next year and graduate."
State Attorney General Bill Clinton, whose staff was assisting in representing the university in court, said today he believes the three players withdrew their court request to play in the Orange Bowl "because they knew they could not prove their case."
Holtz said he was "happy" to see the players had asked for the suit to be dropped, "for the welfare of the players."
Clinton, also in Miami for the game, said: "I view this decision on the part of the plaintiffs as a complete vindication of coach Lou Holtz, athletic director (Frank) Broyles and the athletic department in imposing disciplinary sanctions against these three football players."