Christmas 1988 was no time for rejoicing at the University of Oklahoma. The school’s Sooner football team — the state’s pride and joy — had been placed on probation for illegal payments and recruitment violations. But the worst was yet to come.
Down and Dirty
On the first day of the new year, the team was blown out of the Citrus Bowl by an inferior Clemson team. A few days prior to the game, some of the players had destroyed a hotel room, and one of their coaches, under investigation by the F.B.I. for drug trafficking, got into an altercation at an Orlando country club, causing hundreds of dollars’ worth of damage to the premises.
On January 13, 1989, defensive back Jerry Parks got into an argument with one of his teammates and friends, Zarak Peters, a lineman who had gone to school in Houston with Parks, and ended the disagreement by picking up a gun and shooting Peters. One week later, a young woman visiting a player in Bud Wilkinson House — “Bud Hall,” a lavish living quarters for members of the football team — was gang-raped by several players. A few weeks later, quarterback Charles Thompson made the cover of Sports Illustrated in handcuffs after he was arrested for cocaine dealing. A bad winter in Soonertown.
In this exclusive excerpt from Down and Dirty: The Life and Crimes of Oklahoma Football (to be published by Carroll & Graf), Thompson talks candidly for the first time about the shooting, the rape, and their aftermath. This is the story of a star athlete caught up in the mania of Oklahoma football. Many young boys growing up in Oklahoma dream only of the day they can play for America’s most successful college football team — especially under the tutelage of its head coach, Barry Switzer. Switzer, a great American success story himself — going from a dirt-poor existence in rural Arkansas to the ranks of coaching history-was able to attract exceptional black athletes to play for O.U. Switzer was a winner and Charles Thompson wanted to be his quarterback, turning down dozens of offers from other universities and an opportunity to sign and play baseball with the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Thompson got much more than the chance to play quarterback for his idol Switzer, becoming part of a network of millionaire Oklahoma businessmen and bankers who showered their state’s football players with gifts of money, cars, condos, and drugs. Thompson learned that there was little he couldn’t get away with as long as the Sooners put more points on the board than their opponents. Sooner players are the royalty of the state, eating, drinking, and partying for free. Going to classes was an afterthought; a failing grade could always be changed upward.
When the nation learned about the mayhem at the school, it was shocked, unaware that weapons, wild sex, and drugs were not isolated to a few weeks in January 1989. Guns and rifles were stored in several of the players’ rooms and drug dealing was a daily occurrence in Bud Hall.
If you had toured the players’ rooms in Bud Hall, you might have thought yourself in an armory. Many of the guys on the team had guns. There were handguns, hunting rifles, and shotguns all over the place. The scene was an accident waiting to happen. Given the drinking, drugs, women running in and out, and the presence of physical men with volatile tempers, it was only a matter of time before something exploded.
“It was wild,” my roommate Jerry Parks recalled. “There were times when players would trash the bathrooms and overflow the toilets, and get us all in trouble. They would pop firecrackers and set them under your door, not knowing if something was going to catch fire. One time they shot a bottle rocket under my door when I was sleeping. I heard the noise and woke up. I went out and they were all white guys.
“Defensive end Proctor Lane and I didn’t get along,” Parks continued, “because I thought he was a racist. He was the one doing all the pranks on me. He thought they were funny. Once lineman Nigel Clay and Lane had a fight. There were seven white guys up in the dorm getting drunk. They had about two cases of beer there. One of them got the brilliant idea to get into cars and throw eggs at the dorm. They began throwing eggs and hit everyone walking into the dorm. Nigel saw them when they were ready to throw one at him and warned them not to. They figured he was alone and couldn’t do anything, and threw the eggs at him anyway. Nigel responded and it almost started a racial battle on the team.
“There were at least eight ballplayers selling cocaine or crack or weed. I knew 20, 40 guys on the team who used it. Some of the coaches knew, but they were just covering their asses.”
Zarak Peters was a big, strong lineman who came to O. U. a year before Jerry Parks. Jerry was rooming with me and Zarak had the apartment above us on the third floor. Jerry and Zarak had gone to the same high school in Houston and got along well. They were different types-Jerry high-strung and volatile, Zarak laid-back and easygoing. To earn spending money, Zarak was the team barber, charging the players a few dollars for haircuts. He was a good barber, but unreliable at keeping appointments.