It was during a 2004 interview with former Washington coach Don James that I asked him who he blamed for the downfall of his program back in 1993. “Well for starters, I think it’s The Seattle Times,” he said. “I live in this community and I watch them beat up everybody, not just the football program. I’ve watched them beat up on Boeing and Nordstrom and all the great industries in this community. They all get beat up by the local press. Maybe that happens everywhere. But I have lived in a lot of places and I haven’t see it elsewhere.”
In January 2008, for better or worse,The Seattle Times was at it again. Just days prior to Letter-of-Intent Day, with Washington coming off a terrible 4-9 campaign, The Times launched an investigative series entitled Victory and Ruins. It was written by journalists Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry, who unearthed details on criminal and boorish behavior by primarily three former Washington players: tight end Jerramy Stevens (suspected of rape and multiple legal issues), linebacker Jeremiah Pharms (convicted of shooting a drug dealer during a burglary) and the late safety Curtis Williams (disturbing pattern of domestic violence).
In an attempt to wrap the series up in a positive manner, The Times concluded with an article on the inspirational story of linebacker Anthony Kelley (Prop 48 case who turned his life around and excelled academically, despite a football culture that reportedly sought to prevent him from doing so).
Said The Seattle Times in their article that opened the series:
“Husky faithful look back wistfully to their last great team: the 2000 squad, winners of the Rose Bowl, owners of an 11-1 record, ranked no. 3 in the nation.
“`A mystical, magical season,” one sportswriter called it at the time. What happened on the field in 2000 may have been magical. But what happened off it was not.
“An unprecedented look behind the scene– based largely on documents unavailable at the time– reveals a disturbing level of criminal conduct and hooliganism by the players on that team.
“Former coach Rick Neuheisel and athletic director Barbara Hedges accepted most of it, demanding little discipline or accountability from their athletes. And other community institutions, including prosecutors, police, judges and the media went along.
“Beyond the roses, that was the legacy of the Neuheisel-Hedges era, and the ruins that (current coach Tyrone Willingam) and (former athletic director Todd Turner) inherited in 2004.”
The series ignited a firestorm of controversy in the Seattle region as well on the national scene. For several days it was the talk of radio airwaves, newspaper columns and message boards like that found on Dawgman.com. Husky football fans felt confusion and outrage over a local newspaper dragging the reputation of a deceased man (Curtis Williams) through the mud, and seemingly trying to undermine the football program again, this time with eight-year old news. Others felt the exposure served a good purpose by showing how football players are favored institutionally over “ordinary” students and citizens.
Despite the fact that the cited players, coaches and administrators were long gone from the scene, the University of Washington was branded widely (again) as an outlaw program. A popular national blog even ran the thunderously condemning headline: THE 2000 WASHINGTON HUSKIES WERE HORRIBLE PEOPLE.
As the wrath of Husky fans focused upon The Seattle Times, the series writers’ Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry refused all interviews and maintained low profiles. Seattle Times Senior Executive Editor David Boardman went public to answer questions, and claimed during a radio interview on KJR that he felt “immense pride” over the series. Boardman’s supporters felt he had tied the series up effectively. Boardman’s detractors believed he came off as an arrogant elitist.
While this situation raged, I found myself in a highly ironic situation. I was in the early stages of researching a book about the 2000 Washington Huskies and the late Curtis Williams. (Former UW coach Rick Neuheisel has recently written a foreword for it and the book will be published in late 2008 or 2009).
From the months of January through May of this year, I interviewed 26 players and 3 coaches off that 2000 Rose Bowl squad. I also spoke with Curtis Williams’ brother and caretaker David Williams, Manu Tuiasosopo, former recruiting coordinator Dick Baird and concluded finally with Seattle Times writer Nick Perry. Of note, Jerramy Stevens declined to speak with me and I failed to track down Jeramiah Pharms. Ken Armstrong and David Boardman did not respond to interview requests.
In each of the player interviews, I made sure to ask about the Times series. With the exception of former Huskies Kyle Benn and Chad Ward, I am unaware of any players who went public with their thoughts.
Given that set of circumstances, I felt it noteworthy to compile the players’ responses toward Victory and Ruins. Of note, during a long interview back in February with Marques Tuiasosopo, he declined to speak publicly about the series.
Curtis Williams, four months before his death
COMMENTS FROM THE 2000 WASHINGTON HUSKIES
What was your reaction to the Victory and Ruins series?
I was furious, confused and pissed. It was nothing much that hadn’t already been brought out. I didn’t understand why they decided to drag one of the best Husky teams in years through the mud. Obviously, Jerramy has had his problems, that’s no secret. J.P has had his problems and paid his due. And Curtis, we knew he had some family trouble in the past. That was the thing we loved seeing about him, was that after being given an ultimatum of being kicked off the team, he grew up and kept his nose out of a lot of stuff. He was sixteen credits away from graduation. Even regarding the things they said about him that were true, it should be considered that Curtis paid the ultimate price. We were really pissed that they dragged his name through the mud.
We were also pissed that they tried to tie in the other 115 guys on the team to that. Especially in putting Marques Tuiasosopo’s picture on the cover. Tui is the most stand-up guy I know, hands down. They painted a picture of a program gone wild. Of hoodlums and thugs, and just free reign to do whatever we wished, and it wasn’t like that. You paid a price if you messed up, for the most part.
Kyle Benn, offensive lineman
My response to The Seattle Times series is this: That 2000 season was the most special year I’ve had as a football player. The guys came from all kinds of different backgrounds and had different issues. Yet we all came together from the tragedy of Curtis Williams and every game was a fight. We weren’t the most talented team that stepped on the field every week, but our guys were going to fight and do whatever it took to win games. It’s unfortunate that we had a lot of guys that got in trouble or had unfortunate events that happened in the media. But for that year and that moment, there was none of that. There was no bickering or fighting, everybody was friendly. There was no racial divide, no economic divide. We had a true passion for trying to win. What happened to those guys before and after should not taint what happened in that 2000 season. Well over 90% of that team was comprised of really good guys. I was happy to be a part of that team and I haven’t been a part of anything like that since.
Larry Tripplett, defensive lineman
I didn’t like how they tried to repackage old information to make us look bad, including Curtis since he has passed. Why would a local paper want to dig up information that was eight years old and drag the team through the mud like that, I don’t know. They made us look like a bunch of criminals. And they made Curtis look like a raging monster. But he was a good friend and one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.
Chad Ward, offensive lineman
For me, growing up and living in the South in SEC territory, how does a local newspaper throw their local university under the bus more than the Seattle Times? If that kind of thing had happened in the SEC, that paper would probably lose their media credentials. And it’s not just what they wrote, but when they wrote it. And the main thing was that the story was the story.
It’s sad that the local newspaper would try to maliciously attack the local team that won a Rose Bowl eight years ago… Curtis Williams gave his life to Washington football. If that’s not punishment enough, I don’t know what is. It makes me sick to think that people would write about that for their own benefit.
John Anderson, placekicker
I found it highly disturbing that the local newspaper would try denigrate the memory of Curtis Williams and of the 2000 Rose Bowl team.
Elliot Silvers, offensive lineman
For the guys who messed up, they paid their dues. Jerramy has paid his dues. His career is looked at as a failure. And the animosity that people hold toward him is incredible. J.P. (Jeremiah Pharms) should be in the NFL right now and is not because of what happened. Curtis paid the ultimate price. For the Seattle Times to do what they did to him, and he’s not even here to defend himself!
The way I see that series is that somebody was trying to take away something that was really damn good. That’s what’s killing me. Football is a game, and now we’re getting personal and turning it into a soap opera?
The new president of the University of Washington (Mark Emmert) came out with a statement that the guys on our team weren’t very good guys, but Coach Willingham is cleaning things up now. That pissed me off. That is the president of my alma mater. He hasn’t even met me. He hasn’t met the guys on the team. This is the president of the university reading into things that were said in a newspaper article about the group of thugs on our team and feeling he can pre-judge us.
Wilbur Hooks, wide receiver
I was shocked. Teammates were calling each other grumbling back and forth. That 2000 season was one of the best things that has happened to U-Dub football in recent years and they tore it apart. They didn’t get both parts of the story. It was a dishonor to the entire team. We weren’t a bad group of guys.
–Braxton Cleman, running back
That whole series was slanted. They tried to make the entire team sound like ruffians and thugs. Don’t get me wrong, we had a few guys who did stupid things and had their indiscretions. At the same time, we had guys that did community service and spoke at elementary schools and high schools. They say that in journalism, you’re supposed to be objective. I could understand that if they wrote about Jerramy Stevens and his troubles, and then wrote about Marques Tuiasosopo and all the good things he did on and off the field, and then let people form an opinion. Or if they wanted to write about Jeremiah Pharms, and then write about good people like Pat Reddick who came back after two major knee surgeries. If The Seattle Times had written equally like that, then I wouldn’t be as angry about it. But they made it seem like we were Miami in the early 1990s. Just a bunch of guys running amok in Seattle; not going to class, taking drugs, raping women and raising hell.
Derrell Daniels, linebacker
I didn’t understand the timing of it or the relevance of it. Eight years ago seemed a little ridiculous. The deal with Curtis was completely inappropriate. The other guys are here to defend themselves. Curtis isn’t here to do so. They were stomping on his grave.
Todd Elstrom, wide receiver
I was quite disgusted with that. To bring these things up almost a decade later is ridiculous. The headline tarnishing Curtis as a wanted felon, as if that’s all he was. Especially when Curtis isn’t here to defend himself doesn’t sit well with me at all.
Willie Hurst, running back
My reaction was why? It was a great season for the whole team and staff, and they want to bring focus on three players and shed darkness on what was a great season. I knew that Curtis had been involved with some legal troubles, but I didn’t know the details that were in that article. By the time I met him, he was turning things around at that point. My first year, he was getting his grades back, and the year after that he was back in the mix. Nobody played harder than Curtis.
Omare Lowe, cornerback
In writing about Jerramy and Jeremiah, they picked the right ones to do a bad story on. Jeremiah was a different kind of man; he was a maniac. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good brother. But I’ve never seen anyone come with a reckless abandon like that man. I saw him clothesline (teammate) Matthias Wilson with one arm. This man was a beast. He would squat down before practice and piss all over himself and just get DIRTY. I’ve never seen a man who played in that kind of (psychological) place. I loved him on the football field, because he would always have my back. Off the field, Jeremiah was Jeremiah. People always said he was a bit off-kilter. I didn’t know he was caught up in bad stuff, but on occasion people would say things.
I don’t like to judge people, but when Jerramy arrived at Washington he had some case from high school where he hit somebody with a baseball bat or something. He had to get out of jail just to come to Washington. So that’s how he started his journey right away. I don’t have much bad to say about him because he’s my guy. But decisions cost us. There were times were we would say DAMN! COME ON JERRAMY. COME ON BABY. If you get into trouble once or twice, OK. Learn from it. But when it’s four, five, six times, well then it’s HEY MAN I’M TRIPPIN’. Even when he was in the NFL and got into trouble, I would think “You’ve got a blessing there baby, don’t mess it off.”
Hakim Akbar, Safety
It wasn’t just talking about the football season, it was talking in detail about people’s backgrounds and history and things that I didn’t know could be released. I wasn’t upset at first, I was just trying to figure out what the paper was trying to do. I’m not sure why they ran those stories. Newspapers are stretched thin and closing down or having cut-backs. Writers are doing a lot to stay ahead of the internet, because everyone is getting their information on line and not reading the paper itself… But the sad part about was the need to use people’s lives.
Jafar Williams, linebacker
I was a little offended that they decided to pick on the two dead kids (Williams and Anthony Vontoure). It was an attitude of “Let’s pick on the guy whose marriage was bad like many are, and let’s pick on the guy with such severe emotional problems that he couldn’t function.” The only thing that kept Anthony Vontoure from being homeless was football. But they decided to denigrate his memory too.
I thought it was typical of a lot of the mainstream media in the country, where it’s sensationalized in order to sell newspapers and draw attention. I didn’t read all the articles. After I read the article on Curtis I stopped participating in that whole thing. I thought the whole thing was way out of line.
I had known Curtis since he was a junior at high school. I didn’t recruit him while at Colorado (with Rick Neuheisel). When we got to Washington, I lobbied to get Curtis from running back to safety, because I thought he could be a great safety, which he was. Curtis was a young guy who had different things going on with his life that weren’t always positive. But he was an engaging guy, popular with his teammates, and a natural leader. Had he been able to continue with his life away from a wheelchair, or even in a wheelchair, I think he would have been an extremely productive post-graduate adult. That’s my take of him. I’ve got a picture of him in my office here (at the University of Montana), and another one of him at my home. To me, he was pretty inspirational. He was able to climb out of the negative, and turn a lot of things into great positives. I really wish that his life could have extended because I think he would have been a real productive person.
It’s still emotional for me to think about, because it was so devastating. When I sit and think about it, it still hurts me. When I saw Curtis go down (vs. Stanford 10/28/2000), I knew he was hurt bad because he didn’t move. The guys out there trying to tend to him knew it was bad. I remember that I had tears streaming down my face the whole fourth quarter.
Bobby Hauck (former UW assistant & current Head Coach at Montana)
It was particularly upsetting to read what they wrote about Curtis. He obviously didn’t have a chance to give his side. He did so many great things for the university and he was such a great guy, a lot of people’s last memories of Curtis are going to be what they read in The Seattle Times. That wasn’t the person that we knew and loved.
Paul Arnold, Running Back
What were they trying to accomplish with those articles? And why two days before signing day? Two of the guys were dead, and couldn’t defend themselves. They’re not here anymore. Let them rest in peace. When the reporter called me, I ended the interview halfway through. I could see where it was headed. I felt like it discredited a lot of the stuff we had accomplished. Like we were the Wild Wild West and tearing up the City of Seattle.
Dom Daste, offensive lineman
We were all clustered together with some negative aspects of that year. The Seattle Times whitewashed what we accomplished by putting the entire team in a negative light, which was super frustrating. It upset most of us.
I called Marques (Tuiasosopo) and said, “Wait a second! How do you feel having your picture front and center in that article?” Because obviously, Marques was the landmark for that whole season due to his contributions. When people think about the 2000 Washington Huskies, they usually think of him. Marques being Marques, he is really even-keeled. His reaction was way less than mine. Of course, mine may have been an over-reaction. He was like, “I’m a little upset, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Pat Conniff, fullback
I was shocked and upset. I had mixed emotions. I also understand that reporters’ jobs are to investigate and print material that people will read—they certainly accomplished that. But I’m not sure what their goal was. “Hey, if you want to have a winning team, this is what you will encounter.” They also went overboard, especially since most of this stuff happened eight years ago. And there are always two sides to every story… If you take 100 college students, you’re going to have a few bad apples. That’s just human nature.
My strongest emotion in reading that was probably relief that they didn’t use my name in those articles. I have a wife and three kids now, and I’m a commercial real estate broker. I don’t need to be associated with those types of articles.
Spencer Marona, defensive lineman
It was a shocking article. I was thinking “Why now? It’s been eight years.”
Ken Walker, fullback
If these things are happening, then they need to be brought up. My take on it is are we bringing up things just to smear everybody or are we going to make some sort of change? It would have been better if The Seattle Times had brought these things up it would be better while they’re going on, so the people involved can be helped to make change. But when its years later, after people have passed away or moved on, it doesn’t affect them so much as make the University of Washington look like hell. I don’t know what their point was. The only constructive question to ask is, “What do we do as a community or society to make sure that this doesn’t happen anymore?”
(After being informed that David Boardman seemed to imply he had endorsed their series):
No, I wasn’t endorsing what the Seattle Times did at all. I didn’t hear what Boardman said. I wrote my response to them and never went back (to The Seattle Times website). I don’t have a problem with people bringing things forward for the right reason. But just to smear people or sell newspapers– what are you doing it for?
I think Curt did some bad things while he was there, but he was not a bad person. His way to deal with things was to be physical. But if anybody ever met Curt outside of football and away from Michelle, you would think he was a great kid. He had a big intoxicating smile, and he was funny and fun, and would stop and help you with any problem you had.
But early on he got into that bad situation of getting Michelle pregnant and getting married at 17 years of age as soon as he got up to Washington. There’s no way in hell any seventeen year old should be getting married. He didn’t know how to handle the bad situations, and his reaction was partially taught on the field, because in football if you’re hit you then hit back. Curt got into bad situations and I don’t condone how he handled it at all. I just wish I could have been closer to him at that point because I think I had more influence on him than most other people.
David Williams (Curtis Williams’ brother and caretaker after his paralysis)
I was proud of the Anthony Kelley story. Somebody who was a good guy and had succeeded despite the odds, to put it bluntly. (Overall) we knew we were taking on a sacred cow, and so we were expecting a pretty strong reaction, and we got that. The reaction on Bob Condotta’s blog was negative. What was heartening was that on the main part of the website, there were negative comments, but other people jumped in and argued in the series’ favor as they could see what we were trying to do in publishing the series. Nationally, for people that lived outside the Seattle region, there was a lot of positive reaction. They didn’t have the emotional investment in rooting (for the team).
That was a tough one in writing about Curtis Williams and Norm Maleng. They were two icons in the Seattle area that were and are still revered in the Seattle area. There was a lot of heartache about what we should do with that story. We finally decided that it was important to have that story out there to show what was going behind the scenes. I know it was hard for a lot of people to read, because (Curtis) was such an icon and popular in Seattle sports.
Nick Perry, co-writer of Victory and Ruins
I did feel like The Seattle Times used me. I didn’t understand my place in this whole thing, other than I had succeeded academically. I think they threw me in there because they couldn’t end the series on a bad note like that. If I had been white, I wouldn’t have been featured. Because it’s not a crazy story to hear of a white person studying abroad and doing something like that. But to hear from a black guy that was one of the first Prop 48 cases accepted at the university, I was the token black guy. That was good PR for The Times.
When I realized how big this story was in the beginning, with (bad comments about) Neuheisel and Barbara Hedges, it became clear that I was the token black guy at the university. We’ve got all these bad stories going on, but HEY! WE’VE GOT A BLACK FOOTBALL PLAYER DOING WELL. THIS IS SOME BIG SHIT HERE! This isn’t a white tennis player. He’s a black football player with a poor academic history coming from a broken home and issues including ADD. I was the poster child for all minorities in the standard. I was held as the exception to the rule. It was, “Nobody can do what you did AK! Nobody can do this.”
I agreed with parts of the article. But on this level, The Seattle Times missed the whole point. They were selfish in terms of what their act was toward these athletes. They didn’t pay any respect to that. I really can’t even say what their purpose was.
Anthony Kelley, linebacker
The Seattle Times feels it’s their sworn duty to keep these institutions honest. At the same time their whole series ends up being institutional racism because they didn’t feature a single white kid in those main articles. Lord knows, there were enough of them that got in trouble on that team. But the Seattle Times depicted black athletes out of control. These kids made mistakes, and alcohol was involved in a lot of these mistakes. Even still, progress was being made. They wanted to make it sound like the Lambright and Neuheisel staffs were conspiring with the law to keep these kids eligible, and that’s simply not true. They want to depict college football coaches as monsters who are exploiting the black athlete. And yet they are only going to point out the black kids that got in trouble?
The Seattle Times opened up with a picture of Tui on the front page because they know how popular he is. They used him. And they knew exactly what they were doing. They got dumb fucks like you and me all pissed off. They never talked to any of the coaches that dealt with those kids. They never talked to me, and I recruited those featured kids that got in trouble.
There were so many good kids on that team, and they were all smeared by The Seattle Times.
I still don’t know the purpose of it. It elicited tremendous anxieties on my part. I know how hard Coach Lambright and Coach Neuheisel worked with those kids. How our counselors Bruce Harrell and Gertrude Peoples busted their ass to help those kids survive. But you don’t hear that side. That’s not what The Times wanted to come across. It was an indictment of the terrible University of Washington football team… I mean, what the fuck purpose did it serve? It was all over the nation and it was all dug-up shit.
That team accomplished a tremendous thing that year in winning the Rose Bowl. A big part of that was Curtis Williams.
And I know that David Boardman had a hard-on for me. He was complaining about me during his radio interviews. He didn’t like that fact that I would write or say something (on Dawgman.com and KJR-AM) that would challenge his paper. All he knows is that he created a big stir and pissed everybody off. Fuck him.
Dick Baird, former UW recruiting coordinator
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