Posted on January 28, 2003
Kellen Sr. challenges Shinbone's veracity
On December 23rd, The Shinbone received the following e-mail from former San Diego Chargers' Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, in response to a column that had been critical of his decision to deny his son permission to attend the University of Washington:
A friend forwarded your story posted June 18, 2001 [Pigmented Pigskin: Washington too white for Winslow ]. While you are entitled to your opinion, I believe before stating an opinion you should do your research.
The story or editorial is filled with inaccurate statements, items taken out of context and bias beyond believe [sic].
My issue with Washington was their approach to recruiting my son. I have known Rick [Neuheisel] for a number of years and respect what he has done in coaching. However, I did not appreciate members of his staff attempts [sic] to recruit a 17 year old without dealing with his parents. Other schools came through the front door, Washington in my opinion tried the back door. Also at the time Washington did not have a wide receiver coach in place. Not knowing who would coach the receivers was a major concern. The list goes on but I have neither the time nor the inclination to educate you and your publication.
In conclusion, Miami was not a compromise, it was Kellen's first choice, and one I agreed with. His second choice was Washington. Mine was Michigan State.
The issue of race was mentioned and you and others latched onto "color" and failed, as in most cases, to report the entire story. So sad.
In the interest of accuracy -- especially since that is what is being challenged here -- I must point out that anybody can set up an e-mail account under practically any name and address, and that I have not been able to contact Mr. Winslow to verify that he'd sent the letter. I have decided, however, that its authenticity is confirmed by the fact that he has voiced his main points of contention -- that the University of Miami had been his son's first choice, and that he disapproved of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel's recruiting methods -- on other occasions. I find it incomprehensible that anyone would bother to perpetrate an elaborate hoax just to write things that accurately represent some of Winslow's previous statements anyway.
If what this letter says is true, it would mean that I've done Winslow a gross injustice. If so little of what I've written is accurate, it amounts to nothing short of character assassination. Can this be? Let's take a look at the evidence.
"Miami was not a compromise"
We'll start with my "inaccurate" characterization of Washington as Kellen Jr.'s first choice. What I wrote was that "Winslow had been quietly prodding his son toward Michigan State, because its second-year head coach, Bobby Williams, is black" and that, "When Kellen Jr. chose Washington, coached by white former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel, his father wouldn't let him go. A volatile argument erupted between the two, which wasn't settled until they compromised, by deciding instead on Miami."
If this is not true, then I am not the only one to have misunderstood. On August 31st, 2001, Ted Miller of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, "Kellen Winslow Jr. wanted to attend Washington. His father wanted him to go to Michigan State, where the head football coach (Bobby Williams) and athletic director (Merritt Norvell) are black. The compromise choice was Miami."
In a May 22nd, 2001 article, Wayne Drehs of ESPN.com wrote, "Three months ago, Kellen Jr. was arguing with his father that the University of Washington was for him. His father, the NFL Hall of Fame tight end of the same name, shot back that another school, Michigan State, was the place he should play his college football."
On November 20th, 2002, Jorge Milian, also of ESPN.com, wrote that "Kellen Jr. originally decided to attend Washington" but that "Winslow Sr. went on to say that he preferred that his son play at Michigan State, whose football coach was black." Milian later pointed out that "Miami, Winslow Jr.'s second choice, turned out to be a compromise both father and son could live with."
When the Winslows appeared on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in the fall of 2001, Kellen Jr. himself said of their disagreement, "He wanted me to go to Michigan State. He doesn't want me to go to Washington." James Brown, the reporter who interviewed them for the segment, then explained, "That's because Michigan State's Bobby Williams is one of five African-American head coaches in the game, and Michigan State also has one of the only black athletic directors." Kellen Jr. later lamented that, after his father's refusal to let him go to Washington, he thought, "There's no way out. I just gotta choose Michigan State."
Why Winslow would even bother disputing this point is bizarre, because if the facts weren't as I presented them, there would have been no story in the first place. If Miami had been both his and his son's preferred school, Kellen Jr. would have announced on FoxSportsNet that he was going to play there, and his father would have happily signed the letter of intent. The end.
But Kellen Sr. explained in an interview with ESPN's Dan Patrick that his son had chosen Miami before deciding on Washington. "When he came back from the University of Miami, from his recruiting trip in early January, he said to me, 'I'm going to the University of Miami.' I said okay, but, let's don't make that announcement today. Let's wait until the signing date. So Miami was his first choice ... and Butch Davis, who's now in Cleveland ... when Butch left, Washington came back into the leader. So Miami was his original choice of where he wanted to go."
By Winslow's own explanation to Patrick, Washington became Kellen Jr.'s first choice, once Davis left Miami to coach the Cleveland Browns. That was where things stood when he was ready to announce his decision. To state that Miami was a compromise, after Kellen Sr. had already taken Washington off the table, is plainly, objectively true.
Neuheisel's "back door" recruiting
Rick Neuheisel has often been criticized for his recruiting methods. He's even been penalized by the NCAA for recruiting violations, and censured by the ethics committee of the American Football Coaches Association. Was Kellen Sr.'s rejection of Washington due to Neuheisel's attempts to circumvent him while recruiting his son? The Winslows' Real Sports appearance indicated that this was indeed a concern.
"Winslow Sr. didn't like the way Washington's head coach Rick Neuheisel and his staff recruited his son," narrator James Brown said. "He felt that Washington had tried to go around him, and to Kellen Sr., a lawyer and former sports agent, that was not the right way to do business." Then, however, Brown asked Winslow, "Even if they had gone about it the right way, are you satisfied that they met the criteria?"
"I think they fell short," Winslow said. "When I talked to the University of Washington about strong, male role models of color for my son, they talked to me about a guy in the department of sociology. I'd like for somebody of color to be in that small circle that makes the decisions, and telling me there's somebody in the department of sociology, they're not in that small circle."
Even in that statement, Winslow admitted that the way Neuheisel approached his son was not a factor in his decision; he would have refused to sign the letter of intent no matter how the recruiting process was handled. As for those "small circle" remarks, it might be instructive to recall some of Winslow's words from Canton, where he made what has got to be the angriest Hall of Fame induction speech in the history of sports. Real Sports excerpted a clip in which he presented a hypothetical discussion between a white football coach and a black recruit.
"'Son, we'd really like for you to play for State U. We have a fine academic program, and a winning tradition, and it's close to home, so your folks can see you play a lot.' -- Player to coach -- 'That sounds great, but it bothers me that there are only two African-American coaches on your staff, and neither one of them is the offensive or defensive coordinator.' With these few words, African-American athletes can begin to open doors of opportunities that for whatever reason were once closed to African-Americans."
In his Real Sports interview, Winslow explained to Brown that, "I wrote that speech in 1995 with him [Kellen Jr.] in mind. I was speaking not only to the world, but I was speaking to him, also."
In my previous column, I noted, "Washington has ten assistant coaches, two of whom are black. Miami has three black assistants, among a staff of eleven." Winslow now points out to me that Washington did not have a receivers coach at the time. It was important to him that Miami receivers coach Curtis Johnson was black. Do you suppose that Winslow might have had a little advice for Neuheisel, on what to do about that coaching vacancy?
Neuheisel hasn't become one of the nation's most successful college football coaches by being an idiot. He was perfectly aware that Winslow, rightfully, had the final say over any decision his seventeen year-old son made. It would have defied logic for him to try to cut Kellen Sr. out of the process, unless he'd already become convinced that any meetings with him would be counterproductive. Considering the obstinacy reflected by Winslow's own account of his dealings with the university, it may be that Neuheisel figured his only chance was to go directly to Kellen Jr., and let him be the one to try to persuade his father.
"Race was mentioned"
The passive acknowledgment that "race was mentioned" doesn't even begin to indicate the issue's centrality to Winslow's actions. Ted Miller wrote in a piece from February 14th, 2001 that "Winslow said he brought up race with coaches trying to win his son's affections. He said it made many of them uncomfortable." The source of their discomfort is easy to see, from the accusatory manner in which Winslow introduces the subject.
According to Wayne Drehs' article, Winslow had given his son the following advice. "I told him to take a look around. Thumb through the media guides and see how far you have to turn before you get to a person of color. And if you don't see people that look like you, there's a problem. There has to be some reason behind it." Kellen Jr. has reluctantly accepted that argument. "It wasn't as big of a factor to me as my father," he said, as quoted earlier in the same story. "But you need to see people in positions of high authority of the same color, of the same race as yourself."
Winslow has given this same advice to the pros. A May 21st, 2001 editorial by ESPN.com's Jim Caple quotes him instructing that, "My voice falls mute because my playing days are over. I have no power. ... Now, a player who is a free agent, does he have power? Oh, yeah. If a free agent walked around when he visited with a new team and said, 'Where are the people who look like me?' you would see change."
When Kellen Jr. became one of the most sought-after recruits in America, Kellen Sr. reacquired this power, through his authority over his son's decision. Imagine him approaching the University of Washington, already aware that it employs two black assistant coaches -- the very number he deemed insufficient in his Hall of Fame speech -- and demanding, "Where are the people who look like me?" Short of allowing the parents of recruits to determine who's on the coaching staff, a move that would be certain to produce anarchy within the program, is there any conceivable answer Rick Neuheisel could possibly give, which Winslow would find acceptable?
It does not capture the truth of the controversy to say that " the issue of race was mentioned," as if it were injected into the story by a detached observer. It was Kellen Winslow Sr. who mentioned race, repeatedly and proudly, as his motivation. I sincerely doubt that he has complained about the accuracy of the pieces done by HBO and ESPN.com, which also characterized his decision as racially motivated. The difference is that they hailed the story as a positive social development. I did not. I can't help but wonder if this is where he sees the inaccuracies.
* Thanks to Kevin Liberi for supplyingThe Shinbone with the video from the Winslows' appearance on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
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