Last week, in a front-page story in the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, Eric Ramsey, a former Auburn defensive back who in June had charged the Tiger football program with racism, launched a new attack. In the article, Ramsey, who completed his eligibility last fall, said that he has tapes he made clandestinely of phone and face-to-face conversations with an Auburn booster and three coaches, who, Ramsey says, provided him with various benefits, including cash, in violation of NCAA rules.
Blair Robertson, the Advertiser reporter who wrote the story, says that he has listened to about an hour's worth of conversations from "a handful" of Ramsey's tapes and that men whom Ramsey identifies as Auburn coaches can be heard on them talking with Ramsey about loans and condo payments. Robertson also says that he heard someone who identified himself as an Auburn booster promise Ramsey cash and a shipment of steaks. Although Ramsey has said that he began recording these conversations in his sophomore year and has told Robertson that he made about 70 tapes, Robertson is the only journalist who has heard any of them.
The Advertiser article, which contains few quotes from the tapes, is more provocative than conclusive. The story also maintains that one of the taped conversations is of a meeting between Ramsey and coach Pat Dye in 1990, during which Ramsey asked Dye to use his influence to arrange a bank loan. At one point in the conversation, says the article, Ramsey mentioned money that he had received from Frank Young, the Tigers' former recruiting coordinator who Ramsey says gave him $300 a month.
Until Ramsey provides confirmation of his charges by releasing the tapes, the Advertiser article serves only to confirm Dye's assertion to SI that Ramsey "was always asking for money." Nonetheless the story raises a lot of questions. If Ramsey was requesting payoffs, why were the coaches so tolerant of his presence in their program? Did Dye know of Ramsey's requests? And how did a student in Ramsey's admitted financial straits obtain an $11,377.12 loan?
Dye says that Ramsey did ask him to arrange a loan, but that he warned the president of the Colonial Bank in Auburn not to lend the Ramseys "anything above" what bank regulations allow. "If that's arranging a loan," says Dye, "I arranged him a loan. I was telling [the president] to be damn careful." Dye says that although he knew "it was dangerous" to have a player asking for money, "I had enough trust in our coaches, and I know I didn't give him anything."
Young, who has retired, denies giving Ramsey any money. He says that he did try to get Ramsey a summer construction job, which is permissible under NCAA rules. Larry Blakeney, a former Auburn receivers coach who is now the head coach at Troy (Ala.) State, is quoted in the story as urging Ramsey to stay quiet about yet another discussion concerning money. Blakeney told the Birmingham News, "I had no reason to arrange any benefits for him. I can honestly say I never got him any money." Steve Dennis, the Tigers' defensive backfield coach, is mentioned in the Advertiser article too, but he did not wish to be quoted for this story. Bill Frost, a booster and Auburn alumnus who allegedly promised Ramsey cash and steaks, did not return SI's phone calls.
The Advertiser also quotes Alex Strong, a fullback for Auburn from 1985 to '89, as saying that he had received money from coaches. But on Sunday, Strong apologized to Dye for whatever harm he had done the program. Strong told SI that he did not receive any improper money at Auburn and seemed intent on distancing himself from the story. "I'm out of this," says Strong. "I'm not backing Eric Ramsey. I'm not backing anybody."
Auburn will appoint an outside counsel to investigate Ramsey's charges, and Ramsey has retained Donald Watkins, a Birmingham attorney. Watkins says that Ramsey needs a lawyer because "people are more interested in killing the messenger than hearing the message." Watkins is also wading through the tapes. "The tapes are there," he says. "They do exist. What's on them is on them, and they're not going anywhere."