By Eric Sprott
CLEMSON — It’s been years since he made peace with the incident, but much to his surprise, former Clemson tight end D.J. Greenlee had to relive it all over again Tuesday.
After another former member of the Clemson football team took to Twitter alleging a member of head coach Dabo Swinney’s staff had used the n-word during practice, Greenlee confirmed to The Journal on Tuesday evening that tight ends coach Danny Pearman used the slur during a practice several years ago.
That revelation came after Swinney commented publicly Monday on the nation’s deep racial divide following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed while being detained by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“It happened, and multiple people know it happened,” said Greenlee, who played for the Tigers from 2013-17. “We can’t sit here and hide it, because they know it happened.
“It is what it is.”
Shortly after Greenlee spoke with The Journal, Clemson released a statement from Pearman, who confirmed the incident happened and apologized for his actions.
“I repeated a racial slur I overheard when trying to stop the word from being used on the practice field,” the statement read. “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 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.”
The impetus for the news Tuesday was a tweet from Kanyon Tuttle, the son of legendary Clemson wide receiver Perry Tuttle. The younger Tuttle, a walk-on with the Tigers in 2016 and 2017, responded critically to a tweet from the Clemson football program, which contained audio from Swinney’s remarks from Monday.
“Cap, you allowed a coach to call a player the N-word during practice with no repercussions,” Tuttle wrote. “Not even a team apology. When we had the sit-in in front of (Sikes Hall), you suggested us players try to stay out of it to limit distractions. Stop protecting your brand, take a stand.”
To clarify, Greenlee said Pearman did not call him the n-word, though the former Daniel High School standout did confirm the issue was not addressed with the team despite a number of witnesses who saw the incident.
Greenlee said he was taking part in a routine inside drill and was supposed to block a player coming through a gap, which he successfully did. However, he said Pearman didn’t see what happened, leading to a testy exchange.
“He started to question me, and me and him had our own conversation, and then I left him and went over and started talking to my teammates,” Greenlee said. “As I was talking to my teammates, they asked what he was getting on me about, and I was like, ‘Man, I got that (n-word) that came in the gap,’ and I left it at that.
“Not even a second after I turned around, coach Pearman was walking over to us, and he was like, ‘the (n-word) this, the (n-word) that, the (n-word) wasn’t there. I was just like, ‘whoa … what did you just say?’ He realized what he said, and he just went straight to trying to say he was showing me what it sounded like when I was using that word. He was basically trying to tell me I shouldn’t use that word, but he’s using that word, and that’s not making anything better.”
Greenlee said he spoke after practice with Clemson football administrators Woody McCorvey and Jeff Davis, who told him to go speak with Swinney. Greenlee said Swinney had a private conversation with Pearman about the incident, but the situation was never addressed to the team.
“The first thing (Swinney) said was we shouldn’t be using that type of language in the first place, which is true, but at the same time, I was talking to one of my teammates — one of my African-American brothers,” Greenlee said. “That’s just how we talk. There was nothing meant by that, and nobody was talking to coach Pearman at this point.
“It was me and my teammates talking, and he felt the need to come over and tell me how to talk.”
From then on, Greenlee said Pearman was profusely apologetic — all while he was trying to move on from it.
“It was hard to accept the apology, and he was apologizing every day,” Greenlee said. “I didn’t really want to talk to him, and we didn’t really see eye to eye. I told him I appreciate what we have, but I’m cool. It’s really been nothing since then — that was three years ago. I let it go, and now it’s back.
“I don’t want to blame Kanyon for this at all, because this is something they witnessed. It’s been crazy, because I’m not a person who’s going to sit here and hold grudges on anybody. I wish the best for everybody, and I want to see the world come together instead of what’s going on now.”
Pearman, a three-year Clemson letterman at tight end under Danny Ford from 1985-87, was hired to Swinney’s inaugural staff in December 2008. In addition to coaching tight ends, he’s listed as an assistant head coach and the Tigers’ special teams coordinator.
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