TCU pledged to take care of now-paralyzed athlete, jury told
JUAN B. ELIZONDO Jr.
Oct. 17, 1997
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ In addition to expense money Texas Christian University football players were allowed in the mid-1970s, they were secretly paid up to $100 left in shoes in their lockers, according to court testimony.
Kent Waldrep Jr. discussed the payments Thursday in his attempt to convince a Travis County jury that he was an employee of TCU while playing football for the school from 1972 to Oct. 26, 1974.
On that day, he suffered a spinal cord injury that has left the now 43-year-old Plano man paralyzed from the waist down.
He hopes his lawsuit leads to worker's compensation coverage for all college athletes.
To back his claim that he was an employee, Waldrep told the eight-woman, four-man jury that he got financial compensation for his work on the football field in the form of a scholarship, room and board and $10 a month for expenses, money properly allowed by the now-defunct Southwest Conference.
In addition to that money, Waldrep said he and other players on many occasions got so-called ``shoe money.''
``Normally after a game or after practice there would be an envelope with money in your locker stuffed in an extra pair of shoes,'' Waldrep testified. ``It was anywhere from $20 to $100.''
Waldrep said he believed the locker room was locked while players weren't in it. He was certain that only people involved in football or in the TCU athletic department had access to the room.
There were never any notes or other indication of how the money got there, he said.
A TCU spokesman said no one from the 1970s era remains involved in the athletic department. He reiterated the university's position of not commenting on the trial, and asked not to be identified by name.
Under cross examination, Waldrep said he knew the cash was illegal, but said he was not aware that he could lose his scholarship and be labeled a professional football player for taking it.
Waldrep said under questioning by defense attorney Gregory Whigham that he understood the scholarship was to pay for his education. ``They were in essence paying me to play football,'' he said.
Waldrep also testified that while he was being recruited, TCU coaches told his mother he would return home after his college football career in better physical shape than he ever had enjoyed. They also said TCU would take care of him and any injuries he might suffer while playing football.
Waldrep went on to explain his injury, caused by his landing on his head in a late, second-quarter offensive play against Alabama.
He recalled the name of the play, ``Red Right, Sweep 28,'' brought onto the field by then-freshman Mike Renfro, later a professional player for the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys.
Waldrep said he carried the ball wide right, was gang tackled and thrown in the air before landing on his head.
``I remember thinking, I really rung my bell,'' he said. ``It was scary. I remember consciously thinking `OK, get up.'''
After the play, Waldrep spent a month in an Alabama hospital. He was transferred to a Houston rehabilitation center in a National Guard airplane provided by then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
Before testimony began, District Judge Joe Hart ruled that the jury will not be allowed to hear detailed accounts of how TCU initially helped Waldrep's family with medical bills, but then stopped when the costs got too high.
Waldrep said when school officials cut off their assistance, they told his family that TCU was not responsible.
While the case deals only with Texas law, officials at the NCAA say it could lead to drastic changes in school-athlete relations.
Under current Texas law, an employee is anyone ``in the service of another under a control of hire whether expressed or implied or oral or written.''
That definition fits what Waldrep was doing at TCU, he claims. If the jury decides Waldrep was an employee, he would be eligible for lifetime worker's comp benefits for his disability.
The Texas Worker's Compensation Commission already has ruled that Waldrep should get worker's comp benefits of $70 a month, plus past medical costs. TCU's former insurance company has refused to pay, forcing Waldrep's lawsuit against the company.