Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on Monday defended his response to an assistant coach’s use of a racial slur during a practice three years ago.
Nearly a week after assistant coach Danny Pearman apologized for using the slur, Swinney made his first public comments about what happened in a taped message posted to the team’s website.
Swinney said former tight end D.J. Greenlee and Pearman were on a separate part of the practice field when an argument happened in 2017. Greenlee told The State newspaper, “Me and the coach got into it, and I was speaking with one of my teammates. He heard me use the N-word, basically, and basically tried to correct me by saying the N-word back.”
Swinney said Greenlee approached Swinney privately to discuss what happened. According to Swinney, Pearman was “profusely apologetic.”
In his statement last week, Pearman said he made a “grave mistake” when he repeated the word to try and stop it from being used on the practice field.
“I would fire a coach immediately if he called a player an N-word. No questions asked,” Swinney said Monday. “That did not happen. Absolutely did not happen. It has not happened. Coach Pearman was correcting D.J. and another player was talking to D.J., or D.J. was yelling at the player, and D.J. said something he probably shouldn’t have said; he said, ‘I blocked the wrong f’in N-word,’ — and Coach Pearman thought he was saying it to him, and he’s mad and he reacted and in correcting him he repeated the phrase.
“And [Pearman] said, ‘We don’t say we blocked the wrong f’in N-word.’ And he repeated it. He shouldn’t have done that, there’s no excuse for even saying that. But there is a big difference. He did not call someone an N-word.”
Swinney says the matter was handled privately, but it came to light last week after former Clemson receiver Kanyon Tuttle posted about it on social media because he was upset Swinney never addressed it with the team.
In his own statement after the incident was made public, Greenlee said the situation was discussed internally but “may not have been addressed properly with my teammates at the time.”
Swinney believes he handled it the right way. Pearman never faced punishment.
“There wasn’t anything swept under the rug,” Swinney said. “There wasn’t some dirty secret. We handled it head on. Forgiveness and grace is important. It’s important for any of us, but I’ve known Danny Pearman for 30 years and Danny Pearman is a good man. He’s had incredible relationships with his players. This was totally out of character, but we dealt with it and we moved on. We have great communication within our team and it was handled.”
Tuttle also accused Swinney of suggesting players not participate in a sit-in on campus in 2016 that addressed issues related to diversity training and minority faculty and enrollment.
Swinney addressed that on Monday, saying, “We had players participate in the Sikes Sit-In. I would never tell someone they could not participate in something they believe in or exercise their basic right. But as a coach our job is to teach, educate, protect, to inform. … I stood in front of the team and the only thing I said was if you’re going to participate, make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Make sure you know what the agenda and the message is, because you’re not going to be Johnny Joe the student and go over there and just blend in.”
Swinney has taken criticism for remarks he made during a teleconference last week, in which he seemed to play down the role football coaches can play in enacting change in the way of protests and outrage that have swept the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
He was also criticized on social media over the weekend after he was photographed wearing a “Football Matters” shirt. He said he got it from the National Football Foundation as part of an ongoing initiative.
“Any insinuation I was trying to mock the Black Lives Matter movement is just an attack on my character. And really sad,” Swinney said. “I wholeheartedly support Black Lives Matter. I don’t quite think that’s adequate enough. I think black lives significantly and equally matter. God loves us all. None of us are better than anybody else. Actions are much louder than any words that I can say. I’ve always loved my players. I’m tough on them, but I love them deeply.
“This past week it has hurt. It has been hurtful to see the pain in my players, to hear it in their voices. I know they’re hurting and they have pain for what is going on in this country and this world, and it’s also hurtful to see our program be attacked. We have an opportunity to grow, to learn, to listen, to get better and to get stronger, and that’s what we’ll do.”