The things Cedrick Cooper has heard on the football field would make most people blush ... at a minimum.
“It’s crazy in the SEC,” the former South Carolina linebacker told The State this week. “If we were being mic’d up, and you could hear some of the things we said in terms of talking junk. ... The things I have heard some of my teammates say and some things I heard said, it will leave you like flabbergasted because it’s so crazy.”
The physical encounters on a football field are easy for spectators to see, but the war of words surrounding those confrontations is something that only the players on the field understand, and it’s the physical nature of the game that results in the rest of it, former Gamecocks offensive lineman Cody Gibson said.
“When you think about it, offensive linemen and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends, it’s kind of like a fistfight every play,” Gibson said.
In that environment, things are said, Cooper said. Often they are unpleasant things, he said.
“You get so ramped up, you get so rowdy and all that adrenaline rushes to your head that you do kind of step out of bounds when it comes to trash talk,” Cooper said. “Some people get to a point where they do outlandish things. It’s understandable to a certain extent. On the field, you can’t really hold that against everyone.”
The issue of what is and isn’t said, or should be and shouldn’t be said, between competitors on the field was raised Saturday following Clemson’s 56-7 victory over South Carolina. Gamecocks linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams told media members after the game that a Clemson offensive linemen he could not identify called a South Carolina defensive lineman “the n-word.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney adamantly denied the claim, saying the next day that he had questioned his players and they told him it was untrue.
“I believe my guys,” Swinney said. “That’s all there is to say about it."
Tigers offensive lineman Jay Guillermo reached out to Gamecocks defensive lineman Dante Sawyer after the game to clear the air, Guillermo and Sawyer said.
“I just let him know that that’s not what we do, not who we are,” Guillermo said. “If anything was said, it’s not how we are, not what we are as an offensive line, a team or a university. We have a good culture around here, a really classy culture.”
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and his players have been unavailable to the media since the game. A USC spokesperson said Muschamp “could” address the issue at his next media availability, which is expected to be Sunday after the Gamecocks’ bowl destination is announced.
Every player interviewed for this article agreed that any use of a racial slur is considered far out of bounds, even in a game with a liberal view of what’s OK to say in the heat of the moment.
“I never, ever heard someone called that. The racial thing was never crossed,” said former Gamecock Corey Miller, who played at South Carolina from 1987-1990 and then in the NFL for nine seasons. “If someone would bark the n-word at me, that would result in a serious fight. You have now really crossed the line, not just with me but I can promise you with every teammate I had. That is definitely crossing the line, anything racial.”
Three of the four former South Carolina players questioned by The State for this story said they had not heard the n-word used on the field. Cooper heard plenty of it, he said.
“I have been called the n-word,” he said. “I have been called all types of things.”
Any racial slur is “unacceptable” Cooper said, but he added, “It doesn’t mean they are necessarily racist. It doesn’t mean they have any type of racial hate, but if they can’t affect you physically if you are beating them, the only thing they can pretty much do is try to affect you mentally.”
Cooper heard his teammates use racial slurs against an opponent on the field, he said.
“I have actually dealt with an individual who was one of my closest friends that actually said (a slur) to another player and he wasn’t racist whatsoever, but he said that to get in their head,” said Cooper, who played for the Gamecocks from 2012-2015. “They have come to me and said, ‘I said some crazy things to them,’ and they apologized to me and said, ‘This is what I said.’ I was like, ‘Uh, that is messed up.’ They wouldn’t necessarily say the n-word, but I have heard players say (other racial slurs).”
Cooper declined to identify the teammate.
NFL officials can penalize players 15 yards under the league’s “abusive language” rules if they hear the n-word. A Sports Illustrated investigation of the league’s effort to crack down on the use of the word on the field uncovered at least three incidents since 2014 in which a player had been flagged for using the word on the field, and the NFL in 2014 changed the wording of its abusive language rule to include “the use of abusive, obscene or racially and sexually charged language.” The league flagged 35 players for “abusive language” in 2014 and 2015, Sports Illustrated reported.
The NCAA rule book makes no specific reference to racial slurs.
“No player, substitute, coach or other person subject to the rules shall use abusive, threatening or obscene language or gestures, or engage in such acts that provoke ill will or are demeaning to an opponent, to game officials or to the image of the game,” the rule book reads.
It also specifically outlaws “taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally,” but goes no further in providing examples.
Gibson, who played for the Gamecocks from 2010-2014, and Gerald Dixon Jr., 2011-2015, said they had not used or heard a racial slur on the field.
“You’re kind of in a fight so you might slip and say a few cuss words here and there, but it’s never anything racial,” said Gibson, who is white. “At least, I’ve never heard that. We would definitely have each other’s back if we heard that.”
The notion of using a racial slur against an opponent seemed foolish to Gibson considering almost every college football team has members of both races, he said.
Race is not the only issue that is out of bounds, the former players said. Families and girlfriends should be off limits, too, said Dixon Jr., who is black.
“That’s crossing the line because that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on out there on the field,” he said.
Trash talk is a part of “every game,” Dixon Jr. said, especially the big games.
“The bigger games, like the Clemson game or the top SEC games, the ones that mean the most. All week the media has boosted the game up so you are already getting hyped for it. The other team might have a great quarterback or a great running back and you just want to knock their head off. That’s what all the trash talking stuff comes from.”
One of the points of trash talk is to rattle an opponent, Miller said.
“I always talked trash to a tight end or a tackle, tried to get in his head,” Miller said. “It was always a tactic just to frustrate them, get them out of their game so I could have the opportunity to become more successful.”
Oftentimes, those things are forgotten as soon as they are said, Gibson said.