Last week, an incident that occurred three years ago on the practices fields involving Clemson assistant coach Danny Pearman and former Tigers tight end D.J. Greenlee came to light.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney spoke publicly for the first time Monday evening about the situation and tried to set the record straight on what happened that day at practice.
Last Tuesday, the State Newspaper in Columbia first reported Pearman used the n-word during an exchange with Greenlee at a practice during the 2017 season. Pearman released a statement later that night apologizing and explaining he repeated the racial slur in an effort to stop it from being said after he heard Greenlee say it.
“Three years ago on the practice field, I made a grave mistake involving D.J. Greenlee,” Pearman said in the statement. “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.”
Swinney said Monday, in a video statement found on ClemsonTigers.com, he does not excuse the fact the n-word came out of Pearman’s mouth, but said it is important to note he did not direct the word at Greenlee.
“A story broke (last) week, and the story was not in context,” Swinney said. “But what happened was we had – I didn’t know anything about it – it was a coach and his player, Coach Pearman and D.J., off doing a drill in a part of the field. It wasn’t in front of the whole team or anything like that. And Coach Pearman was correcting D.J. He didn’t do the right thing, and I think another player was talking to D.J. or D.J. was talking to the player, and D.J. just kind of said something he probably shouldn’t have said. He said, ‘I blocked the wrong f’ing n-word,’ and Coach Pearman thought he was saying it to him, and he’s mad and he reacted and he basically, in correcting him, repeated the phrase. He said, ‘We don’t say we blocked the wrong f’ing n-word,’ and he repeated it and he shouldn’t have done that. There’s no excuse for even saying that. It doesn’t matter what the context is. But there is a big difference. He did not call someone an n-word.”
Swinney says if one of the coaches on his staff actually called a player that, the coach would be fired on the spot.
“First of all I would say, anybody who has been in our program, they know there’s two words I don’t want to hear,” Swinney said. “There’s a lot of them I don’t want to hear, but there’s two in particular that I will absolutely call you out on – one is the n-word, and the other one is G.D. I would fire a coach immediately if he called a player an n-word, no questions asked. That did not happen. Absolutely did not happen. It has not happened.”
Swinney, who has a longstanding relationship with Greenlee and his family, went on to say that the situation was addressed and handled internally within the program.
Greenlee played at Clemson from 2013-17, and his father, Larry, is the Tigers’ assistant director of strength and conditioning.
“There’s a lot of things I don’t allow in our program, but when things happen, we deal with it,” Swinney said. “Sometimes it’s in private, sometimes it’s public. This particular case, the player came to me in private and we handled it in private, and I think it’s important to know because every case is different. But this particular player, D.J., I’ve known him his entire life. Coach Pearman has known him his entire life. But he brought this to me in private, told me what happened. I met with Coach Pearman. He was profusely apologetic, and he told me exactly the same thing. I also consulted with Coach (Woody) McCorvey on it, and we moved on. Coach Pearman apologized, and we moved on.
“I think it’s also important to know this player’s dad, he and I have worked together for going on 18 years. He’s been my strength coach for 12 years, and the Greenlee family, they’re family. So, there wasn’t anything swept under the rug. There wasn’t some dirty secret. We handled it head on.”
Swinney added that what Pearman said was “totally out of character” and they have moved past the incident.
“I also will say that forgiveness and grace I think is important,” Swinney said. “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. You can call Dwayne Allen, you can call Jordan Leggett, you can call Brandon Ford and on and on and on. He’s had great relationships with his players, so 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.”
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