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Original Issue

No Hero in Sight

What of an ex-Auburn football player who chose to take the money and run his tape recorder?

In September, former Auburn Defensive back Eric Ramsey, recently cut by the Kansas City Chiefs, asserted that he had tapes of incriminating conversations between himself and Auburn coaches and between himself and a Tiger booster named Bill (Corky) Frost. According to Ramsey, the tapes prove that he was given cash, food and other benefits in violation of NCAA rules while he was at Auburn. A transcript of some of the taped conversations appeared in The Birmingham News on Oct. 20 and included this telephone exchange, allegedly between Frost and Ramsey:

Frost: "Eric...I'm going to send you enough steaks to last you about a month at a time, two months at a time."

Ramsey: "What about the bonus [money] you paid last year? Are you going to cut me out?"

Frost: "No, sir! That's still good."

Ramsey: "That's cool."

Frost: "You'll get your bonus from me...with the meat. But I don't want to even hear about it. It would hurt Auburn."

Ramsey: "You won't."

Frost: "Don't ever hurt Auburn. Auburn is a great place and I love it. I'll be your friend until the day I die. Auburn's been mighty good to you, whether you realize it or not."

The News hopes eventually to print excerpts from the rest of the transcripts, which, says Ramsey, will reveal more about the money and gifts he received. So the question for those who are not fanatical Auburn boosters is, whom do you like in this mess? The answer has to be nobody.

While apparently bighearted and an Auburn-lover, Frost seemed to have no qualms about breaking rules or about requesting a cover-up of his violations. Tiger coach Pat Dye, whose voice is said to be on at least one of Ramsey's tapes, is unrepentant and nasty. "They [Ramsey and his wife, Twilitta] don't have a damn thing on me," he says. "You think Ramsey is going to be able to get a job? Who the hell would hire him or her, either one?" Last week Dye suggested that Auburn fans boycott The Montgomery Advertiser, which broke the story about the existence of Ramsey's tapes.

As for Ramsey, unemployed, three credits shy of graduating after failing a course last spring, cut by the NFL, he is a confused, angry and perhaps misguided young man. According to the transcript in the News, Ramsey repeatedly asked Frost for money, yet he now claims to be the one who has been wronged in this affair. Ramsey made the tapes clandestinely and without telling any official at Auburn or the NCAA about the favors he says he received. Ramsey says the taping—a process that he maintains encompassed 100 conversations over three years—was "a hobby." He claims he wanted to prove how corrupt the Tiger football program is and to warn high school players away from Auburn. Then he says, "I took the money because I needed the money."

Corruption is a natural offshoot of our insistence on calling entertainment-driven, revenue-producing sport "amateur" and of the need of certain middle-aged men, like Frost, to buy into college teams. Ramsey, though, was an eager participant in the very misdeeds that he says made him a victim. Money and revenge appear to be at the root of his complaints.

Presenting herself as her husband's agent—and identifying herself as Dawn Webb—Twilitta tried to sell the tapes to SI last August. Eric's attorney, Donald Watkins, is cleverly milking the situation, issuing the tapes slowly for publication. "To get a full flavor... requires a time-release plan for making the tapes public," he told The Birmingham News, which did not pay to publish the transcript

Ramsey has said that he wouldn't have gone public with the tapes had he not been cut by the Chiefs, as if Auburn was responsible for the failure of his pro career. And Twilitta says, "It didn't have to come to this.... All [Auburn officials] had to do was come to us and at least pretend they were sorry."

For what? Apparently, for everything that has gone wrong in Ramsey's life of late. One thing is certain when you deal with snakes: Sooner or later you must crawl on your belly. Indeed, what is next for college football? Players sent to rival schools with hidden wires? Blackmail?

Still, Ramsey is a victim, no matter how mercenary he may be. He was not the one with power. He took, but the system gave. Ramsey may not have a logical explanation for his deeds, but sometimes being in the midst of a disorienting ordeal—and college football can be just that—can throw off one's ethical compass. Whistle-blowers and star witnesses are not always pleasant or virtuous people. Sometimes they are criminals and informants trying to beat a rap. Sometimes they are deluded fanatics. Often, though, their stories bring about change, even when the tellers do not benefit from the telling, and it's hard to see what Ramsey stands to gain from his disclosures. College football, however, could benefit. The message should not be diminished by the messenger.

When Ramsey asked for money while playing at Auburn, somebody—some adult—should have said no and sent him to the woodshed. But someone, perhaps many people, said yes, and the demons were let loose. Above all else, one is left saddened by this ugly affair, which when reduced to its essence is little more than a circle of people using one another.

According to one of the transcripts, Frost said to Ramsey, "I'd like to give you something, this being your last Christmas at Auburn, and I would like to be part of it."

Happy holidays to all.