During his years at UNC, Julius Peppers worked closely with Carl Carey, who was an athletic department academic counselor at the time. PHOTO: Scott Sharpe, N&O file
CHAPEL HILL — If you haven’t already, be sure to check out this story I wrote after speaking on Monday with Carl Carey, who is Julius Peppers’ agent and who was Peppers’ academic counselor in the athletic department at North Carolina.
Carey worked from 1998 through 2002 at UNC as an athletic department academic counselor, and he also taught in the African and Afro-American Studies department. While at UNC, he formed an especially close relationship with Peppers. That relationship is detailed here in a story that Tom Friend wrote for ESPN the Magazine.
Like a lot of sports agents, Carey is kind of a divisive figure. That’s especially true today, after it emerged that he created a website labeling one of my colleagues at The News & Observer as “dirty.” I’m not going to link to it but you might have already seen it, anyway. And no, I didn’t ask Carey about that website during our conversation.
But I did ask him, among other things, about his relationship with Peppers, his time working as an athletic department academic counselor at UNC, how difficult it was to keep certain athletes eligible and how athletes managed to find their way into certain courses at UNC.
So here he is, on a variety of issues:
Andrew Carter: What’s your reaction to Julius Peppers’ transcript being apparently leaked online?
Carl Carey: For something this personal as your college transcript to be leaked, I mean, you just don’t expect something this crazy.
AC: The transcript certainly raises some questions about Julius’ academic experience at UNC. Do you have an overall comment or reaction to seeing it?
CC: OK, my comment, generally, is this: I heard about this for the first time late last night. And the information that I’m getting now is I’m being told that the transcript has not yet been verified as belonging to Julius. However, if it is his personal academic information that is online, then there’s been a breach and that is very unfortunate. And I want to go on to say that Julius was an African-American Studies major while he was at UNC. It is to be expected that an African-American Studies will take African-American Studies classes. And this major is a legitimate academic course of study.
I have had the opportunity to teach a course in that department and from my experience I can tell you that Caucasian and African-American students alike told me that the course that I taught in that department was one of the best courses that they had taken during their entire career at UNC. This is a legitimate course of study. And it is very unfortunate that it has been scrutinized and maligned in the way that it has been. As it relates to Julius’ transcript, if indeed this transcript can be verified as being his, I can say that like most college students, he had some courses in the AFAM department that he did well in. And he had other courses that he struggled in, within that major.
And you know, overall, he has become a great success in his life and he has a lot to be proud of. He had some success in some of those courses, and he had challenges in some of those courses, OK? And then the final thing that I want to say is this … I want to say this, because this is something that I’ve wanted to say for a minute: There is a thirst for negativity out there. And rather than the focus being on trying to find a scandal, my hope is that there is an intelligent, serious discussion about athletes and academics that takes place as a result of these reports. And this is a nationwide issue. Not a UNC issue.
Every – well, let me back up from ‘every,’ because some people might take issue it. But I believe it’s ‘every.’ You can just say, college campuses across this country are grappling with how to prepare student-athletes for success on the court, on the field and in the classroom. They’re grappling with it, nationwide. And finally, my hope is that we start working towards solutions. Because the young men and women who are student-athletes deserve that this issue be taken seriously rather than it being tabloid fodder.
AC: You worked for years inside a major college athletic department, and I’m guessing worked with a lot athletes – like Julius – for whom academics was a struggle. From your experience, what were – and are – some of your concerns about how athletics and academics coexist on college campuses?
CC: This is what I’ll say: God gives ability to people in different areas. And just like it would be difficult for a typical student to compete on a basketball court, or a football field, it is sometimes difficult for a student who happens to have a given talent in athletics to compete at the same level as a 1500 SAT. It doesn’t make one student better than the other, that their talent happens to be in a different domain.
We don’t criticize the general student for not being able to perform well in athletics. And so this focus on the fact that some student-athletes aren’t as talented as the general student in the population at a university, it’s unfair to them. That may not be their area of strength. And actually, I applaud them for competing in an area that’s not their area of strength because we don’t ask the typical student to compete on the basketball court or on the football field.”
AC: Is Julius aware that his transcript is apparently out there, for the public to see?
CC: He’s in training camp and so his focus is on training camp. He is aware that there is something out there regarding a transcript, but his focus is on training camp, where it should be.
AC: And how, exactly, did you work with Julius during his years at UNC? I read the ESPN the Magazine story from years ago on your relationship so I know a bit about it, but what was your role in working with him?
CC: What I’ll do is I’ll just say this, generally speaking, for background. That I was an athletic academic adviser. And during that time there were two of us that were primarily assigned to the football team. And so I essentially advised half of the football team, academically.
AC: That’s a lot of guys.
CC: Yeah, it is. And I guess I should use the word, ‘counseled,’ because there’s this thing now about their academic advisers on campus and then their academic counselors in athletics. But you know, I counseled not only football players, but football players and members of the men’s track team, as well, during my time there. So in the course of working there, Julius became a student of mine. And as that article says, he was playing two sports, you know, which is incredibly demanding. It’s almost the entire school year.
And so you know, given the demands – and this is not just Julius. Just in general … college was a challenge just trying to balance the hours as a regular college student. Imagine having commitments athletically five days out of the week, plus. Five or six, depending on if you’re in season or not, and trying to balance that. And that’s the unfortunate thing – athletes are being maligned.
I’ll use this quick analogy with you. The typical student would be scared to death if they were sent out to play on a football field with the football team. They’d be scared to death. And some student-athletes, some of them – particularly the ones whose academic records from high school indicate that they’ve had some challenges – though those student-athletes are physically intimidating in some cases, they are scared to death in the college classroom. Do you get that? A typical student would fear for their life if they were sent out on a football field with the football team. They would feel unprepared, they would feel scared. They would feel inadequate. And so you could assume an athlete whose academic records suggest that they’re likely going to struggle, and you put them in a classroom with 1500 SATs, guess how they’re feeling?
And it is a nationwide issue and I really hope that this stirs an intelligent dialogue. An intelligent one.”
AC: How much pressure did you feel to keep some of these athletes eligible?
CC: I don’t know that I really want to go into that … I’ll just say that for me, that the success of these students in a holistic way was important, and therefore I kind of took some of that pressure, in a sense, on my shoulders. But it was really more so about their overall success. Because the reality is that most of them are not going to have the kind of career that a Julius Peppers has, and the financial benefits. And so there’s a pressure to make sure that these young men, because we’re talking about football players and basketball players in general – that they have success after they leave the university. That they’re prepared for what awaits them.
And I’ve had the opportunity in my years to talk to some students after the game is over. And unfortunately, some of their stories, you know, are not good in terms in terms of what happens afterward. And so nationwide, we need to do more to talk about how we can not just gain something for universities in attracting these great athletes to come to school. But we need to be talking about how we can ensure that we’re giving them everything that they need in order to be successful.
We do a lot to attract stellar athletes to college campuses, OK. And my hope is that there is a more serious dialogue about make sure that after we attract them that we prepare them for life after their sport is over.
AC: Some might look at Julius’ transcript and identify patterns that reflect a scheme in which UNC kept him eligible. What would your response be?
CC: I’ve already kind of said it. He was an AFAM major. It’s a legitimate academic major. Many of the students that I’ve talked to over the years of working at UNC, when they talk about interesting courses or courses that there’s lively debate and discussion in class about, and that sort of thing, they talk about courses in African-American Studies. What I’m saying is this is a legitimate major. It is a legitimate department. I’ve taught a course [in AFAM]. It was riveting, interesting, kept students coming to class because they wanted to learn more. So a lot of this that’s being written about is, quite frankly, it’s unfamiliar to me. I was at UNC from 1998 to 2002 in my position in the athletic department.
AC: And you came back and taught a class in the AFAM department last summer.
CC: Yeah. Because I had taught the same course when I worked there. So one summer, I just decided, hey, it’d be nice to go back and teach the course. I didn’t know – I didn’t know – that [News & Observer reporter] Dan Kane was going to feel like that was a big deal, because it wasn’t.
AC: You’ve talked a lot about your desire to create some kind dialogue about some of these issues you’ve described. How would you want that dialogue to progress?
CC: Within the conversation there needs to be more of an understanding of the demands of being a student-athlete and in general by the public. And certainly that does not absolve student-athletes from meeting the same academic requirements that every other student at the university has to meet. But there needs to be a discussion about how you squeeze the amount of time needed to be a great athlete and a great student – how to squeeze that time into a week … and there just needs to be a discussion about how that happens. And I hope that this would spur dialogue, and that university administrators and faculty and athletic department officials who all, I believe, have student-athletes’ best interests at heart, that they will work diligently to address this very serious issue.
AC: And what was your role in guiding athletes you counseled to a particular class? How did that work?
CC: Back then, the advice was received in combination between, that I can recall, three different offices in a sense. You have the department that the [athlete] is either a major in, if they have a major at that point … And then the second person that they got advice from would be an adviser in the college – whether that’s the College of Arts and Sciences, which is where a huge majority of students, their majors reside in arts and sciences, it’s a very large department, or a very large college. So your College of Arts and Sciences, your College of Education, et cetera, et cetera. So they might receive it from an adviser in the college, so you have the department, you have the college and then the student-athletes have academic counselors in athletics.
And really, our role was mainly providing academic support. So helping to arrange tutors and that sort of thing. But also the student-athletes have a unique situation in that their classes have to be done, for example, by 2 p.m. or so because they have practice in the afternoons. And so academic counselors in athletics are there to, at least during the time that I was there, are there to work with the student-athletes to make sure that courses that they selected, for example, didn’t conflict with practice schedules and those sorts of things.
Now were there times where a student who needed some advice on a course, could they get that advice from an academic counselor in athletics in conjunction with the department and the college? You know, sure. But I will say this – that academic counselors in athletics always, always yielded to the advice given by the department and the college. Because the department and the college, they’re the ones that know their degree plans better than anybody else. They know their courses better than anybody else. And so academic counselors in athletics by nature yielded to the department and the college. Not only was that done just because that made sense, but also in the pecking order of responsibility, it was appropriate that we yield to the department and to the college.
AC: How common was Julius’ situation at UNC? How many Julius-like situations did you encounter?
CC: Well, I mean, he played two sports, so that was atypical. So it was really double duty, you know. But certainly, in my time at the university, I have counseled many overwhelmed student-athletes. Overwhelmed.
After our conversation ended, Carey got back in touch with me. He wanted to add this, on the obvious connection people might make between Peppers transcript and the current AFAM mess at UNC: “To suggest a connection between a decade old transcript and the current academic issues at the university is extremely irresponsible.”
So there you have it. Thanks to Carey for his time.