Howard University's football program has been rocked by a series of allegations by present and former players charging numerous abuses and mistreatment of athletes. Howard Coach Keith was interviewed last week by staff writers Michael Wilbon, Mark Asher and Leonard Shapiro.
Q: We'd like to give you a chance to talk about the controversy that has surrounded your football team this season.
A: I know that if I couldn't live with myself in the morning, with coaching decisions that I made, something that I felt wasn't right, I wouldn't be in coaching. Every man has a right to voice his opinion, and I'm a real believer in loyalty. I'm loyal to Howard University, to the administration, to my boss, to my team. There's a lot of things I think that occur within a family structure; we like to treat our situation here as a family. If the facts were to have been dug into a little deeper, I think you would have discovered that it maybe would not have been as newsworthy as it appeared. And that gets on the front page.
Q: Let's talk specifically. Ivan Thompson, a running back on your team, said he did not have enough money to eat.
A: First of all, no promise of an athletic grant was made to Ivan Thompson. It is a matter of record that Ivan Thompson received financial assistance from the institution and also from a government loan far and above the amount that an athletic grant is at this university, and the amount of aid that he received was stipulated for the school year 1980-81. At no time did I tell the young man that I would give him an athletic grant. I felt that he wrongly misled the public in terms of what his situation was. I'm not questioning that he took his money, and maybe he did something else with it other than pay for his food. The fact is that at the beginning of the season he had money to handle his bills.
I talked with Ivan. Mr. Leo Miles, the athletic director, and I sat down with him discussed the situation and he did not deny that the money was not there. The only thing he said was that he insinuated that I had lied to him.That created a problem. He had an option. He had to apologize to our team, publicly, about the situation and had he done that he could have come out. Later, he was told while at the meeting with Mr. Miles and myself that until the apology was made he would not be permitted to play. Or practice.
Q: You're talking about institutional funds, and from what he told us he's getting no money from Howard University.He was getting federal money from a Basic Education Opportunity Grant and he was getting a student loan that was either federally or District guaranteed.
A: If I worked at the financial aid office, I could pull out and tell you exactly where all of his money came from. But I can't do that because I've got to worry about rules.
Q: Let's talk about the principle, of a kid who's on your football team, making a major contribution. The story comes out that he hasn't got enough money to eat. How does this happen?
A. Well, it happens. He squandered his money. I hadn't realized that his whole financial package at the time when school began; that he had the amount of money that he had.
Q: Wasn't the NCAA's interpretation, though, that you could put Thompson on scholarship immediately?
A: All of my grants were committed.
Q: But could it have been done?
A: I've never heard of it, I've never seen it done.
Q: Still, the NCAA says you could. Was there any step taken to look into the possibility. Did anyone call the NCAA?
A: No, because after that situation, like I said, I'd never have made the recommendation to give him a grant.
Q: You talk about the team, being a family. Did Ivan come to you before he came to us and say, 'Hey coach, I'm in trouble, I need help?'
A: Yes, Ivan did that.
Q: Before he came to the Post?
A: He did that in the summer.
I could have taken him home every night and sat him in my house, but you know that's an NCAA violation. I felt for him initially, until I found out what his financial situation was.
Q: Would you have put Thompson on scholarship in January?
A: Had none of this stuff developed, I certainly would have.
Q: Would you talk about the situation surrounding the dismissal of Ricky Tripplet from the team?
A: Ricky's situation is a little different and it just happens that Ricky ends up being Ivan Thompson's roommate. Ricky and I have had our disagreements about things before. He's had a history of shoulder problems. He has had this and had that. I asked for a medical release from him before I would invite him back during the summer, which I got. This is dated June 19, 1980. It said he was healthy, able to perform.
On Sept. 24 Ricky Tripplet left practice with a shoulder injury. He had a strained shoulder on the left side; he had severe pain, loss of movement. Now from that point on, Ricky was running on the scout team. That's not a degrading thing. As a defensive back, we felt that he wasn't quite what we were looking for and we'd had problems in our secondary. Since that time we never saw him. He never came to the training room, never came to practice. Our rules specifically say he has to do both. He didn't. So his situation was two-fold. I think injury-wise that it was best that he not play football anymore. I think he was having further difficulty dealing with the fact that he wasn't a starter. And he still is going to receive a scholarship here. It's never been taken away.
Q: What about Fred Spence? He said he had a severe injury, was told to go out and practice. Two days later, he went out to practice and his knee gave way.
A: Well I'm not a physician, so you're asking the wrong person. I've got to listen to those people. Fred Spence was cleared for participation. Fred Spence became ineligible in summer school and couldn't play. If he'd been academically eligible we could have placed him on grant. Because of an injury related situation. But he didn't have the grades so we couldn't help him.
Q: A university task force has concluded that there were several very serious offenses. Among the allegations was that two coaches on your staff had physically abused players.
A: Everybody's got a copy of that report but me and, you know, so I don't know that. All I know is that the responsibility of the task force was to report to the president, who would make his recommendation. So, as far as that's concerned, I haven't heard any recommendations made.
Q: What about Vance Brown? He says he was academically ineligible, that a coach knew it, and that he was told not to say anything about it.
A: Vance Brown came into this program through the normal walk-on procedures. He was accepted on his seventh-semester transcript.The NCAA says a student must have graduated from high school with a minimum grade-point average of 2.0 based on a maximum of 4.0 for all work taken through the accumulative six, seven or eight semesters; that's the important thing. His was a seventh-semester transcript and his cumulative average when he came here was a 2.04 at the end of the seventh semester. Now this is the transcript which was sent from his high school to Howard University. He graduated with a 1.96.
Q: His high school sent the wrong transcript?
A: No, no, he was admitted in this institution before he graduated from school, which can be based on the winter semester. I think he had to go to school in the summer, take a course, and then he was graduated, and then he came and enrolled in the school. He played in the Cookman game. I said I know in my own mind that he has to have a good-enough grade-point average because he can't get in. He was supposed to come in to talk to me on Monday. bI never saw him again.
Q: A number of kids have said they've had to go out and sell blood for $13 a pint to local hospitals.
A: What does that have to do with the program? You know, when I was in college, even if a player wasn't playing athletics, they'd go out and sell blood to get money, just to have spending money.
Q: But they're saying they have to do this to get food because of training facilities at Howard that are so inadequate.
A: I think a training table would be great. I'm not opposed to a training table.
Q: Since the task force, in its preliminary report, concludes that there was at least one member of our coaching staff guilty of physically abusing a Howard player, will you fire the coach involved?
A: I'm going to wait and see what our president says. He's the one that has to respond. He's my boss's boss.
Q: A lot of people are suggesting Howard should get rid of Floyd Keith.
A: Well, they could, you know. But I'm doing the best job I can and if that job's not good, let the president make his choice.
Q: In all these cases are you basically saying each one of these kids is not telling the truth.
A: Well I would say that maybe in some situations there may be misinterpretations about the way things are. The only thing I'm saying is that there's two sides to every story.