Longtime Dabo Swinney assistant apologizes after ex-Clemson players reveal he said N-word during practice

On Tuesday morning, former Clemson football player Kanyon Tuttle said on Twitter that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney “allowed a coach to call a player the N-word during practice with no repercussions.”

By Tuesday evening, Clemson assistant Danny Pearman apologized for what he had said in 2017.

Tuttle’s tweet, which quickly made the rounds, came on the heels of Swinney’s Monday media teleconference in which he addressed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests and unrest around the country.

The player involved, D.J. Greenlee, detailed what happened in an interview with The State. Greenlee told The State that Pearman used the racial slur during “a heated argument during practice.” Greenlee played tight end at Clemson from 2013-17. Pearman, the Tigers’ special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, has been on staff since 2009, when Swinney had his interim tag lifted and was named full-time head coach.

Here’s how Greenlee explained the situation to 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.’ ”

Greenlee said the “heated” exchange took place in front of the entire team and that he spoke with Pearman after the practice, which took place “three years ago.” Greenlee told The State that Pearman apologized and that Swinney told him he would speak with Pearman about the incident. Later on, Greenlee said he was able to accept Pearman’s apology.

“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.”

A third former Clemson player, offensive lineman Zach Giella, said Greenlee’s account is “exactly how it happened.”

Pearman apologizes

Hours after Tuttle’s tweet, Pearman apologized in a statement released by Clemson Tuesday evening.

“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 o the practice field. What I overheard, I had no right to repeat.”

“While I did no 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 raise 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.”

“I love the young men who choose to come to our university and I would never do anything to intentionally hurt them. I sincerely apologize to D.J., his family, our team and our staff.”

Tuttle brought up the incident in a reply to a post Clemson’s official football Twitter account sent out on Monday. The post was nearly seven minutes of audio from Swinney’s teleconference, which was the first time Swinney — one of the most prominent figures in college football — addressed Floyd’s death.

“I know that we are all hurting for the Floyd family and our country,” Swinney said. “I can speak for our entire staff and our team in that regard, for sure. We have all witnessed just disgusting acts of evil. That’s really the only word I can appropriately use over the past recent week here and beyond.”

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney walks across the field before an NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. Clemson defeated South Carolina 38-3. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney walks across the field before an NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. Clemson defeated South Carolina 38-3. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Swinney criticized in past for responses to social issues

Tuttle said Swinney, who has been heavily criticized for his responses to social issues in the past, should “stop protecting [his] brand [and] take a stand.” Tuttle also said that Swinney suggested to his players not to participate in an on-campus sit-in to “limit distractions.”

In another tweet, Tuttle said he will “never understand why” the incident involving Pearman and Greenlee “was never addressed” to the team as a whole.

On Tuesday afternoon, Tuttle clarified his feelings about Swinney, saying “he needs to do better than this.”

Tuttle was on the Clemson football team in 2016 and 2017 after transferring from South Carolina State. He is the son of former Clemson standout Perry Tuttle. Perry Tuttle was a star wide receiver on Clemson’s first national championship team in 1981 and went on to play three seasons in the National Football League.

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