Grambling responds to concerns

Grambling State football players complained of mold and mildew on equipment and in facilities, having to pay for Gatorade out of their own pockets and even said which assistants they thought would make a good interim coach after the firing of Doug Williams in a letter to the administration obtained by ESPN's Pedro Gomez.

On Friday, Grambling State canceled its football game against Jackson State after Grambling's disgruntled players refused to travel from their Louisiana campus to Jackson, Miss., for the game Saturday.

School officials are meeting this weekend in an effort to reach a resolution with the disgruntled players and avoid any more forfeits, school spokesman Will Sutton said. Among those meeting are university president Frank Pogue, athletic director Aaron James and Dennis "Dirt" Winston, the team's third coach this season.

"It's horrible," Pogue said of the situation in an interview with ESPN. "Grambling is the institution when it comes to athletics. Whether Eddie Robinson -- there are legends abound. So it's horrible when the focus is in the negative on athletics."

The players' letter says "there are certain factors that are hindering us from reaching our goals" and then elaborates on many of them.

The athletic complex "is in horrible condition, and has many hazards that may contribute to our overall health," the letter says. "First, the complex is filled with mildew and mold. Mildew and mold can be seen on the ceiling, walls and floor, and are contributing to water leaks because of faltering walls and ceilings."

As has been reported before, the players say that the floor is coming up in the weight room, but the letter also asks that the university supply better detergent for uniforms.

"The uniforms are poorly cleaned and contribute to the multiple cases (of) staph infection," the letter reads. "Several players have been infected with staph multiple times."

A group of 26 photos obtained by Gomez from an unnamed Grambling State player appears to illustrate some of the players' complaints.

Several of the photographs show walls and ceiling tiles and even player equipment that appear to be covered in mold or mildew. Other photos show floors from the facility's weight-training room missing wide sections of its rubberized floor tiles, and torn and tattered covers to some of the room's weightlifting benches.

Sutton said that local health department inspectors, acting on an anonymous tip, recently visited Grambling athletic facilities and recommended changes to improve conditions, but did not deem those facilities a health hazard.

Sutton added that buildings throughout campus, including the library, have similar problems because of neglect, and that the conditions football players have complained of are symptomatic of problems campus-wide stemming from substantial budget cuts.

"If people want to get this fixed, there are two things they can do: Make a donation to the Grambling Foundation and the other is lobby legislators to fund Grambling at the level it should be funded," Sutton said.

Pogue told ESPN he didn't know "specifically" about the mold and ceilings, but that "he had staff members who knew and a coach who should have known and brought it to everyone's attention."

According to the letter, players have been complaining for some time that Gatorade and the supplement Muscle Milk were not supplied during summer camp or workouts.

"We had to pay for those expensive items ourselves," the letter states. "We were also forced to get water from hoses underneath the stadium in 90 degree plus weather."

As has also been reported, players took exception to the fact that they had to travel by bus to Kansas City and Indianapolis.

"One trip was 14 hours while the other was 17," the letter says. "Players were drained and exhausted after those long rides."

Sutton addressed the travel concerns Saturday.

"When you have your budget slashed by 57 percent, you have to make choices," Sutton said, adding that the school would "love" to fly the team to distant road games, but that Grambling was contractually obligated to take its band, cheerleaders and dance team on those two trips. He said those obligations led to the difficult choice to put everyone on buses.

Sutton specified that the 57 percent cut in state funding, which has occurred over the past several years, has affected the entire campus, and that athletics was spared significant cuts until this academic year. The athletic department was asked to cut $335,000 from its overall department budget of $6.8 million. Sutton said football was cut by $75,000 to about $2 million.

The players were bothered, according to the letter, that "the president and athletic director traveled by plane."

Some of the players have demanded the resignation of Pogue, but Sutton says "that's not going to happen."

In addition, the letter states that money from "friends of football and the alumni association ... is being rejected" because the organizations donating the money want it to go to specific areas, while the university demands that it be applied to the university or athletics as a whole.

Finally, the letter addresses the firing of Williams in September.

"The football team was not addressed and received no sign of compassion from administration until over a month later," the letter says, adding that "the administration fired the head coach without plans of placing a competent coach in as interim."

The letter states that the players did not support interim coach George Ragsdale, who has since been relieved of those duties, saying he "contributed to five of the seven (losses) of the season."

According to the letter, the players supported "coach Dirt Winston, Vyron Brown, or C.C Culpepper." Winston was named new interim coach Thursday.

Pogue said a written response to the letter is being worked on.

With the forfeit to Jackson State on Saturday, Grambling has now lost 18 straight football games against NCAA opponents.

But Sutton said Williams' dismissal was not related to his "wins or losses, or X's and O's. Not at all." When asked to clarify why Williams was let go if not because of his record, Sutton said, "We don't discuss personnel matters."

Sutton added that the recent change in interim coaches was a move the AD felt needed to made in order to move closer to resolving the impasse with players, who Sutton said supported the decision to promote Winston.

Players were still not being made available for interviews on Saturday.

Pogue was asked if there will be ramifications for the players due to the boycott.

"They will be treated with deep respect," he said. "If we can go back on that field Monday that would be rosy."

The ongoing chaotic situation first drew public attention on Tuesday, when players angrily walked out of a meeting with administrators. Players then refused to practice Wednesday and Thursday, and did not show for buses Friday to travel to Mississippi for Saturday's game.

Information from ESPN's Kelly Naqi and The Associated Press was used in this report.