Six former Howard University football players yesterday charged that a special faculty task force report finding abuses allegedly committed by the school's athletic department "doesn't even begin to scratch the surface."
"We've got the details of everything that report has skimmed over," one player told The Washington Post in a two-hour interview.
The task force report found that two assistant coaches, still on the staff of Coach Floyd Keith, last year physically abused players; that the athletic department needs to increase emphasis on and support of academics; that the department is deficient in providing training and medical assistance and that food is insufficiently provided athletes.
Yesterday the former players detailed abuses not contained in the task force report.
Fred Spence, a professional football prospect two years ago, said he was told by the staff, although it had not examined him, that his injured right knee was a "problem only in his heart and mind, not in his knee." An outside physician told him he needed to rest the weakened joint four weeks. Spence said he was told to practice if he wanted to stay on the team. Two days later, Spence collapsed on the practice field; an examination by the school discovered he had extensive cartilage damage from which he is now recovering.
Many players have to sell blood as often as possible to a nearby hospital (for $13 a pint) to earn money to buy meals. "Go ahead and call over there and ask the hospital officials how many Howard University athletes come over there to donate blood for money every week," said Ricky Tripplet, dismissed from the team last week by Keith. "There's no telling how much blood of mine they have over there," said Steve McNeely, another former player.
Junior Kermit Wheeler, once a starting offensive lineman, was declared ineligible just before last season started because he was two credit hours short of the eligibility requirement. "I realized I was having trouble, so I began spending as much time studying and seeking tutoring as I could," Wheeler said. "But when the coaches realized I was doing that, they said if I wasn't eligible to play with the team, then I couldn't use the tutoring facilities." Wheeler, a zoology major, has his grade average nearing the B level and is planning to attend medical school next year.
Vance Brown, a freshman walk-on from Summerville, N.J., said he made this year's squad despite having a 1.96 grade point average in high school, which the coaches were aware of. "When an assistant coach found out my GPA, he told me to stick around and practice, but not to tell anybody because he could get me an extra year. But he told me if I told anybody, I wouldn't play another down at Howard University." Brown since has quit the team because, he said, he was unable to communicate with the coaches.
Brown, Wheeler, Spence, McNeely, Tripplet and Ivan Thompson said they all had seen or knew of several incidents of physical abuse by coaches, including head slapping, face guard snatching and pulling and continual attempts to intimidate.
The former players, all still enrolled at Howard, also told of one very talented player whom Keith relied on to "snitch to the coaches about which kids were opinionated, which went to bed late, and which ones went out to get food after curfew."
Said McNeely, "He was always scared and paranoid. The guy had so much talent. He ran a legitimate 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. But that wasn't enough for the coaches. They knew he was a naive kid and a long way from home and would do practically anything to play football, so they used him. After awhile the kid couldn't take it and he just had to quit."
Contacted last night, Keith declined comment.
"I feel that this administration, Leo Miles (Howard athletic director) and Floyd Keith have to go, for this mess to be straightened out," said former defensive star Herm Redding, the only player from the school to be drafted by a National Football League team, in the ninth round by San Francisco in 1978.
"As an alumnus I want to see the whole thing cleared up. But Vice President (Carl) Anderson and Dr. (James Cheek (university president) keep trying to dismiss what these players are saying. You can't just keep ignoring this situation.
"Something has to be done here. I've been the only player so far to be drafted, and the way things are headed it looks like I may be the only one for awhile. But it doesn't have to be this way," said Redding, now a graduate student at Howard working toward a master's degree in social work.
"We've got talented kids around here who are just being led to the wayside. You just can't put players off the team, make them ride buses for long hours with no food or physically abuse them and think it will all blow over. These questions are going to have to be answered. No more hushing it all up. It's disgusting."
Anderson and Cheek were not available for comment last night.