The ugly truth about the racist hate mail sent to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin

Pat Forde

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Most of America was repulsed by the racist, threatening letter delivered last week to the house of embattled Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin (21), the contents of which were shared on social media by Sumlin’s wife, Charlene.

One of the sad side-effects of that revelation was learning that a lot of other African-American coaches can probably relate. They might not have received letters directly to their homes, but office mail (and email, and voicemail) is a different deal altogether.

“I knew all that stuff was around me,” said former Washington, Notre Dame and Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham (22). “And I think most African-American coaches know it’s around them. I believe most [black coaches] have had to deal with it. It’s not a surprise.

“But the job is to do what’s best for your team and put that out of your mind. I don’t know if I ever internalized it consciously. I don’t think I gave it even a second thought.”

Willingham said he believes football office secretaries and other support staff probably intercepted and discarded plenty of hateful correspondence before it reached him. But there was one threat during his Notre Dame tenure that was specific enough to be forwarded to authorities, and Willingham said he believes the sender was identified, charged and prosecuted.

Kevin Sumlin addressed the racist and threatening letter his wife shared on Twitter after Texas A&M’s win on Saturday. (Getty)
Kevin Sumlin addressed the racist and threatening letter his wife shared on Twitter after Texas A&M’s win on Saturday. (Getty)

Floyd Keith (23), former head of the now-defunct Black Coaches Association, said he has his own file of racist mail he received during his coaching career. He’s also heard from many other black coaches who endured similar slurs.

“When you go into the profession, you know at some point in time you’re going to be confronted by it,” Keith said. “A lot of the stuff that happens, coaches don’t say. They don’t talk about it publicly.

“I never share [the letters]. I keep them to teach my kids some history, some of the struggles we’ve had to endure.”

Keith echoed Willingham’s stance that dwelling on people who would send such hateful correspondence is a waste of time and mental energy.

“That’s not the majority,” Keith said. “That’s a very small percentage of the populace, and at the end of the day you need to cut them out of your thought process. Ninety percent of the craziness is from 10 percent of the populace, and people with those attitudes, you’re not changing them. They’re already infected with a disease, and there isn’t any cure.”

Both Willingham and Keith disliked the fact that Texas A&M administrators were quiet publicly when Board of Regent member Tony Buzbee (24) publicly ripped Sumlin right after the opening loss to UCLA, calling for him to be fired.

“I was a little disappointed that nobody in the administration came out and said anything,” Keith said. “Somebody needed to say, ‘Listen, we don’t support that kind of action by a trustee. We don’t think it’s appropriate.’ ”


Two weeks in, there are some new standouts making names for themselves. The Dash has a brief and admittedly incomplete list:

Rashaad Penny (25), San Diego State running back. The nation’s leading rusher through two games is replacing the all-time FBS rushing leader, Donnel Pumphrey. Penny showed what he could do in a backup role last year, gaining more than 1,000 yards himself, but now he’s really showing off. Penny ripped Arizona State for 216 yards Saturday on just 18 carries, and is averaging 10.6 yards per attempt. He’s the only FBS player with a 90-plus yard run on the season.

Zach Abey (26), Navy quarterback. Right behind Penny among national rushing leaders is Abey, who in two games has compiled 343 yards on the ground – nearly equaling the 384 yards he gained last year. Abey is the latest productive option runner for Ken Niumatalolo, and he’s hit some big pass plays this season as well. Abey is averaging a whopping 34.6 yards per completion.

Tyler Johnson (27), Minnesota receiver. In 13 games last year, Johnson had 14 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. In two games this year, he has 10 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns. P.J. Fleck’s 2-0 boat rowers are averaging a healthy 9.9 yards per pass attempt in no small part because Johnson has become a big-play threat.

David Sills (28), West Virginia receiver. He’s taken an interesting path to sharing the national lead in touchdown receptions with five. Sills was a high school quarterback who originally committed to USC, but decommitted from a recruiting class that featured Sam Darnold. He went to West Virginia, played wide receiver in 2015 and caught seven passes his freshman season. After competing for the starting QB job in spring 2016 and not winning it, Sills departed to play quarterback at a junior college in 2016. Then he came back to West Virginia, accepting his wide receiver fate, and has been a big-play target for Will Grier. Sills had two touchdowns in the opener against Virginia Tech and three Saturday against East Carolina.

Bryce Love (29), Stanford running back. He’s replacing Heisman finalist and top ten NFL draft pick Christian McCaffrey – and doing a fine job of it so far. Love has 340 rushing yards on just 30 carries – his 11.3 yards-per-carry average is highest in the nation for any back with at least 30 attempts. Ripping Rice for 180 yards was one thing, but backing that up with 160 more against USC was a statement. Love isn’t the all-purpose threat McCaffrey was, but he’s clearly David Shaw’s go-to runner.

Austin Bryant (30), Clemson. The junior equaled his career sack total of four in a single game, dropping Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham four times Saturday. On a line that includes stars Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, Bryant is one more person for offensive coordinators to worry about in the seemingly endless assembly line of Clemson defensive linemen.

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