Penthouse Retrospective

by Charles Thompson and Allan Sonnenschein Originally Published: October, 1990

College Football History | 30 Years Ago This Month

Switzer was at his best with the media when it came to the rape charges against Hall, Bell, and Clay. None of them had been tried, but Switzer was going to show how tough he could be: “I’ve made my decision. They won’t play here again. And if they’re found guilty in the courts, I want them behind bars. I want them caged.” Being tough is something Barry Switzer does as a matter of convenience. He didn’t want Bernard Hall “caged” after he was caught stealing from other players. When the team was out of tight ends, Switzer quickly reinstated Hall — not, as he explained it to the media, because the players came to him and asked to have Bernard put back on the team, but because the coach knew we were in deep shit at that position.

Switzer continued to play to the press when it came to my arrest for drugs: “It destroyed me, it really destroyed me. I had a good relationship with Charles. I had talked to Charles about him being drug-free, him doing the right thing, because he was a quarterback in the public eye. Now I worry about Charles going the other way, going into that culture, those associations.”

Then Switzer wanted to explain why he warned me the F.B.I. was investigating me: “I’ve been accused of ruining an investigation by doing this. If I let it go on, after what’s happened to me, how would that have looked? When it all came out, and people found out I had known … how would that have looked? If we know that information, we have to protect ourselves.”

“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.”

I’m not blaming Barry Switzer for my drug use and dealing, but I think he deceived the public by portraying himself as the concerned, protective coach. He knew I had been involved with drugs six months earlier, but did little more than make me attend the rehabilitation clinic for less than two weeks. Yes, he talked to me about cleaning up my act in time for the football season, and it wasn’t Barry Switzer who went to Dallas to score cocaine, but me. Still, what did my coach, teacher, and role model do about those “associations” he was so concerned about? Switzer was honest when he told the press: “We have to protect ourselves.” That was his only reaction to the shooting, rape, and drug dealing — protecting the program and himself.

An incident that took place at O.U. in 1987 demonstrates what the overall problem was at the school. Joe Brett Reynolds, a wrestler at O.U., had been caught having another student sit in for him to take one of his final exams. He was tossed out of school and told that he could not reapply for admission for two years. But Joe got a lawyer to appeal the student suspension before the board of regents. The board voted to reduce the suspension to 11 months. Faculty and students couldn’t believe the decision; the faculty met and passed a resolution demanding that Reynolds suffer the original penalty and the student congress initiated a petition that censured the board of regents. There was an uproar over the matter, but in the end Joe Reynolds returned to school 11 months after his suspension. Rules may be rules, but to the O.U. board of regents, Joe Brett Reynolds’s winning wrestling record came first. That is the real problem at the University of Oklahoma.

I can’t speak for Jerry Parks, Bernard Hall, Nigel Clay, and Joe Brett Reynolds — I speak only for myself and am responsible for my own actions — but when people ask me why I would do what I did when I had everything in the world going for me, I can only try to explain by saying that student-athletes are unlike all other college students. Even before high school we are treated differently. We are special because we can run faster, throw faster, and hit a baseball farther than our classmates. We are pampered, and our behavior, never tolerated from other students, is excused.

In 1987 the N.C.A.A. surveyed college athletes about their experiences. This is what one athlete said, as reported in The Wall Street Journal by Frederick C. Klein: “They say that I am a student-athlete, but really I’m an athlete-student. They lied to me on a recruiting trip. Football is No.1 here.

“The pressure put on us to win at all times has resulted in physical violence, such as slapping and punching by coaches. Some days the coaches make you feel as though you are part of a large herd of animals. In other words, they treat you like a piece of meat.

“Somehow, and I don’t know how, the game needs to be played for fun again, and not for the big-bowl revenues or lucrative TV contracts.”

I never want anyone to feel sorry for me, but I identify with what other student-athletes are saying. I never felt like other students, because I was at the University of Oklahoma for the sole purpose of playing football, not for the reasons other students go to college. Nobody, including myself, was concerned about what I should study to prepare myself for the future. My future was immediate: Play and win football games for O.U. I could look forward to only two things after my eligibility — a career in the N.F.L. or working for an O.U. booster. I lived in a world separate from the rest of the student body and had very little in common with them. If I gave my best on Owen Field, I was allowed to do my worst off it. I took advantage of the license given me, and when the F.B.I. put the handcuffs on me in the attorney’s office, I realized for the first time I’d have to take responsibility for myself.

Ain’t college fun?

Sport to some. Abusive to the point of near slavery to others. Near to religion for even more. College Football checks all those boxes.

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