Protest Marches Won’t Clean The Stained Integrity Of Dabo Swinney’s Legacy

Clemson football players led a “March For Change” on campus in support of equality on Saturday.

It was organized by QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Darien Recher, LB Mike Jones Jr. and WR Cornell Owell

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who has come under criticism for his handling of a past racial incident that recently came to light, told the crowd, “…Black lives significantly matter, & equality matters…”

N-Word Incident Will Haunt Swinney’s Legacy

Hopefully, Swinney’s new commitment to equality includes never again allowing bigoted speech directed towards his Black players by white coaches. 

Hopefully, the march signifies a new day in the culture at Clemson University. Clemson football players, like much of the world, are taking a stand and trying to move forward, never returning to times when players must suffer under the mentally debilitating effects of the N-word.  

Swinney’s reputation has been on the chopping block because of his slow response to the George Floyd murder and then for the suspect shirt he wore, which exhibited a total insensitivity to his players and the moment.

Once former Clemson football player Kanyon Tuttle said on Twitter that Swinney “allowed a coach to call a player the N-word during practice with no repercussions” back in 2017, all hell broke loose on social media.

Pearman’s A 24-Hour Reminder Of Racial Insensitivity

Shortly after that Tweet was made, Clemson assistant Danny Pearman apologized for what he had said.

“Three years ago on the practice field, I made a grave mistake involving D.J. Greenlee. I repeated a racial slur I overheard when trying to stop the word from being used on the practice field. What I overheard, I had no right to repeat.”

“While I did not direct the term at any player, I know there is no excuse for me using the language in any circumstance. I never should have repeated the phrase. It was wrong when I said it and it is wrong today.”

“I apologized to D.J. at the conclusion of practice, who then appropriately raises this concern to Coach Swinney. Coach and I met to discuss the incident and he reiterated that my language was unacceptable. I later apologized again as well as expressed my sincere regret to our position group the following day.”

(Wow, so he really used the N-word?

Tuttle’s tweet came after a media teleconference in which Swinney addressed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests and pocket looting that followed around the country. 

The player involved, D.J. Greenlee, detailed what happened in an interview with The State

“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,” Greenlee told The State.

“He wasn’t saying that I was a N-word. It was, using the tone, in a word like, ‘OK … I was talking to my teammate and you came over here.’ ”

A third former Clemson player, offensive lineman Zach Giella, confirmed Greenlee’s account as totally accurate. 


Greenlee described it as a heated exchange that took place in front of the entire team. Greenlee spoke to Pearman after the practice and Swinney told him he would speak with Pearman about the incident. Greenlee eventually accepted Perman’s apology. 

But it should have never happened. 

“Yeah, it happened,” Greenlee recalled. “It was a heated time or whatever. I spoke with him after practice. Coach Swinney explained to me what was going on. He said he was going to talk with Coach Pearman. I don’t know if he did. Coach Pearman apologized. This was three years ago.”

“He apologized the rest of that season. He knew he was in the wrong,” Greenlee said. “You can’t hold a grudge against someone forever.”

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and a few other players defend their coach, but Swinney owes his players a lot more than a march with them. When Swinney signed a 10-year, $93 million bag from Clemson as payment for his two National Championships in three seasons, none of the underserved African-American players who helped him get that bag was compensated or shared in his riches.

Instead of siding with his cash cows, Swinney retained the coach, which immediately sent a message to his Black players that being subjected to the N-word (regardless of context) is acceptable. Pearman’s presence is constant salt in the wound for every Black player on the team. 

Swinney worked his way up from the bottom, but somewhere along the way, he forgot where he came from and his white privilege took over. The minute he let a coach use the N-word and didn’t fire him on the spot, Swinney became complicit in the oppression that has sparked a revolution of protest, police reform, and activism around the world. 

It doesn’t matter how many players or reputable people come to Swinney’s defense, or how many times “Black Lives Matters” leaves his lips. His failure to make a powerful statement against racism on his watch — when nobody was looking —  makes much of what he does on video and for the cameras seem like damage control and hardly authentic.

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