In the early 1990’s, Auburn University defensive back Eric Ramsey released tapes detailing the illegal payment of players and racist experiences during his time for the Tigers. And over 20 years later, not much has changed in college football or the country as a whole.
In 1991, Ramsey released recordings of conversations with coaches from his career with the Auburn Tigers, backing up the allegations he had made to the Montgomery Advertiser that he and other student athletes had received improper benefits. The school would be hit hard by the NCAA, but it is already a relatively forgotten story.
Growing up in Homewood, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, Ramsey was a talented recruit out of high school with dreams of playing in the NFL. But in his time with Auburn football, it wasn’t a lack of talent for the football player that ruined his shot in the pros, but off the field drama.
During a 2011 interview with Bleacher Report, the Tigers’ former player talked about how early in his career, the coaches didn’t take him seriously because he had married early and had a child within his first two years on campus. He also had coaches consistently putting him down and making him feel like less than what he was worth.
With this, on top of some other practices that separated the white players from the black, Ramsey felt like there were some racial issues that were preventing him from reaching his true potential. And he says his former wife Twilitta (they divorced in 1996) was the one to come up with the idea for recording the coaches if they tried screwing him over.
Ramsey had years of recordings by the time he graduated, many of them capturing his coaches and boosters offering money and food. The two main people accused of committing NCAA violations in this were head coach Pat Dye and Auburn booster Bill “Corky” Frost. But assistant football coaches Larry Blakeney, Frank Young, and Steve Dennis were also implicated in the recordings for giving Ramsey cash and paying his car payments.
The idea for recording these conversations apparently came from Twilitta because she was afraid of the coaches moving on from Ramsey. They were apparently telling recruits if they went to Auburn, they could take his job because he was married and had a son, so he wasn’t all in on football. But releasing the tapes wasn’t always the plan.
At the 1991 NFL Draft, Ramsey was drafted in the 10th round by the Kansas City Chiefs, though he was cut before the end of training camp. He never made it onto an NFL roster, which is surprising since a few months later, he was on the front page of the Montgomery Advertiser claiming to have over 70 recordings proving his claims of receiving money. Ramsey had Birmingham attorney Donald Watkins on retainer who assisted him throughout the whole process of releasing the tapes and everything that came afterwards.
After investigations into Ramsey’s allegations, Coach Dye stepped down from both positions as Auburn’s athletic director and head coach. Terry Bowden would take over as the Tigers’ coach. But the NCAA charged Auburn with nine violations of NCAA rules. They also brought down rough sanctions, like giving the football program a two-year bowl ban, one-year television ban, and the loss of 13 scholarships over the next four seasons.
Racism at Auburn
During Ramsey’s senior year, he wrote a paper for a sociology class that was released to the Montgomery Advertiser about racism at Auburn. Some of the practices, like separating white and black players in the dorms or during the Tiger Walk, don’t look great from the outside and can’t really have an explanation short of racist.
All of this is made even worse with how Ramsey was received when he graduated from Auburn in 1992. When walking across the stage, students and Auburn fans chanted the racial expletives at him, so his then-wife flashed double-middle fingers back at them.
Worst of all, it doesn’t seem the release of these stories has changed much. Players are still being paid illegally, and there is still racism on college campuses, especially in the South. Ramsey may have hoped to change something, even if just at the school he still claims to root for on Saturdays, but I really don’t know if it did much at all.