The lives of Eric Ramsey and his wife Twilitta have changed dramatically since a Montgomery, Ala., newspaper disclosed six weeks ago that Ramsey, a former Auburn defensive back, had at least 70 secretly recorded tapes to back his allegations of NCAA rules violations by Coach Pat Dye, several assistants and a booster.
Big-time college football -- and Auburn's is one of the elite programs in America -- is practically a religion in the South, so it is not surprising that Auburn fans consider Ramsey's action as blasphemy. The Ramseys and their young son now live in seclusion at an undisclosed location amid threats received at his lawyer's office.
In a 40-minute interview earlier this week after he had played his tapes for a House subcommittee, Ramsey characterized the threats as "disturbing phone calls," but acknowledged he had heard none of them firsthand. "I don't answer the phone at home anymore," he said. His wife added, "We don't even go out to the store anymore."
They have been hiding out since the day the Montgomery Advertiser broke the story on the existence of the tapes. They are surprised at the attention their story has engendered outside the state of Alabama and maintain they have no vendetta against Auburn or its head coach.
"This has been quite an experience," said Ramsey. He said he and his wife never intended for the tapes to be made public but did the taping as what his wife called "a hobby."
Ramsey said: "I had no idea how much emphasis was going to be put on it. I knew it was going to be big (in Alabama), but it's bigger than I ever thought it would be."
For instance, television crews followed them for four blocks after they met with the staff of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Competitiveness on Capitol Hill.
There have been rumors swirling in Alabama that the Ramseys were willing to sell the tapes to the highest bidder, that Eric Ramsey had a vendetta against Dye, that he had his hand out seeking the extra benefits he received and that the Ramseys are going to write a book.
Ramsey and his lawyer deny it all. Ramsey said, "I'm willing to take a lie detector test."
The Ramseys both said they do not have a vendetta against either Auburn or Dye. And the purpose for making the tapes public -- only those involving a booster have been released so far -- is not to get the football program placed on NCAA probation, but to expose conditions that they say need to be rectified "to protect players coming in after Eric," Twilitta Ramsey said.
Eric Ramsey said their goal is to establish humane conditions for players and make sure the coaches at least preach academics and football equally. "I want to see the whole plantation mentality, the whole thing gotten rid of, because I feel like players, both black and white, are being exploited, treated like cattle on the football field," Ramsey said. After listening to the tapes, the House subcommittee said it would investigate Ramsey's charges. The NCAA and the university already have begun investigations.
Dye has said he would not comment on Ramsey's allegations until the investigations are completed.
Ramsey tried to draw attention to his concerns about racism in the program this summer without including alleged NCAA violations. They were contained in a term paper he released to some Alabama newspapers. At that time, no one believed him; in fact he said he was ridiculed by the media. That was before he released his tapes of conversations with Dye, assistants and booster Bill Frost. The recordings, Twilitta said, began "sort of as a hobby" after current and former players had been telling him of their treatment in the program.
"My ultimate goal is not money, but to change the system at Auburn," Eric Ramsey said.
The tapes provided a vehicle by which the Ramseys could establish their credibility and expose conditions he felt needed changing.
He contended in the interview -- but has no tapes to back these allegations -- that coaches do not encourage players to get degrees (only 14.8 percent of football players entering Auburn in 1984 have graduated, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey) and those who do at the expense of football are punished (Ramsey is three hours short of a degree in criminology); that the team sometimes practiced four times a day before classes started, and that coaches physically abused players.
"I'm not mad at Auburn, I'm mad about the things that occurred at Auburn," Ramsey said. "There are a lot of things that go on at Auburn that I don't like. As far as a vendetta, no, I'm not upset at anyone. I'm not even upset at Coach Dye. But I think the treatment he has given to me and former athletes is horrible, and I just want to see it changed. They don't care. They use you up and they don't care about your future."
According to tapes already released, extra benefits Ramsey received from alumnus Frost included $300 for a car payment, $1,200 towards another car, performance bonuses up to $500 and monthly supplies of steaks. Ramsey said that on a scale of 1 to 10, his extra benefits would be rated a 2. Others were higher. He said one player arrived on campus one year driving a Ford Escort station wagon and left that summer in a BMW.
Frost, a friend of Dye, has said he is not a representative of Auburn's athletic interests, a tie-in that the NCAA must establish to find any extra-benefits violation. "The steaks, he said, were for humanitarian reasons," Ramsey said. But Frost "was humanitarian only in football season."