Thursday, February 10, 2011
Posted: 11:12 a.m.
By Reuben Frank
The article appeared in the Oct. 24, 1988, issue of Sports Illustrated under the headline, The Nightmare of Steroids.
It was the shocking and compelling story of University of South Carolina defensive lineman Tommy Chaikins deterioration from a healthy, well-adjusted college freshman to a suicidal junior suffering from depression, liver damage, severe headaches, mysterious tumors and a litany of other mental and physical ailments.
All because of human growth hormones and steroids, Chaikin wrote in the piece, co-penned by SIs Rick Telander.
Chaikin alleged that several South Carolina coaches not only looked the other way when their players began using steroids and suffering severe consequences but also encouraged their use and even provided money so some players could buy HGH and steroids.
Among the coaches singled out by Chaikin?
Gamecocks defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
The same guy the Eagles hired last month as their new defensive line coach.
When that article came out in Sports Illustrated, Washburn said softly on Wednesday, that rocked my world.
It rocked his world, nearly drove him into poverty, and ended his coaching career for a while.
Chaikin made some pretty serious allegations about Washburn and three other South Carolina coaches, accusing them of placing their desire to win ahead of the physical and mental welfare of the young men they were responsible for.
I feel sorry for them because they have so little compassion, but I don't hate them, Chaikin wrote. I'm not out to get them that's not the point of this article. I just want people to know that steroids change you in many ways, and that the psychological changes are the most drastic of all. I've seen so many players become brutal and mindless from steroid use. Look what happened to me.
I love football, but I am worried about the course it is on right now. Most coaches are hypocrites. They don't really care about their players. They only care about winning, and that's because of the pressures put on them I understand that. But once you start using people as commodities, you've lost your integrity. And it's hard to get that back.
After a federal investigation, a grand jury indicted Washburn and three other South Carolina coaches on charges of distributing steroids. Washburn eventually agreed to a plea bargain in which he was sentenced to serve three months in a halfway house and three years of probation.
Wednesday, in his first meeting with the Philadelphia media, Washburn spoke about the incident at length.
I did a stupid thing a long time ago, and Ive paid for it ever since, and I got sentenced to prison, Washburn said. Let down my family. It was stupid. Stupid thing. Ive paid for it ever since. I guess Ill pay for it the rest of my life. I guess Ill never take another job and not have somebody bring it up. Thats life.
Washburn, 61, was 39 when the SI article came out. He was a rising, highly regarded young coach with a nationally ranked program.
He lost all of it.
Washburn found himself out of work with three kids and a wife to support. And no football program in the country would go near him.
It was a hardship, he said. I just took my family through unneeded things, but we came out good. Would you go out and change things? Yeah, I wouldnt have done the dumb thing I did. But I just wonder if his kids Jeremiah and Brady Washburn and Jessica, I dont know if theyd be the same people they are.
We got to be poor for a while. And couldnt buy new shoes for a while and things like that, and I thought that was good looking back. You make good things happen out of bad things, I suppose.
My familys better for it, honestly. We didnt file for bankruptcy, but we were close. They got to see what hard times were like, which is great. Make a lot of money now, but people dont know that we went through a time where I drove a truck and hauled hog feed and mowed grass on the side after Id been a big-time college coach at South Carolina.
Did a dumb thing.
Nearly out of money, his coaching career in shambles, his family desperate, Washburn turned to his faith.
Got down on my knees every night, I said just give me one more chance and I promise I wont screw up, he said. I kept screwing up anyway.
Washburn finally found his way back into football in 1990, resurfacing as head coach of the Arena Leagues Charlotte Barons. He spent two years as a position coach with the London Monarchs of the World League and then a year back in the Arena League with a different Charlotte franchise, the Rage.
It wasnt until 1994 six years after the Sports Illustrated article appeared that Washburn got another college job. Danny Ford hired Washburn at Arkansas. He stayed there until 1997, when Jeff Fisher brought him to the then-Houston Oilers.
Washburn stayed with the Oilers and Tennessee Titans franchise for 14 years before joining Eagles head coach Andy Reid in Philly.
Its a miracle, Washburn said. When I was sentenced it was 10 years to the month later, and I was standing on the Georgia Dome field before a game logo in the middle said Super Bowl XXXIV.
God. I went from driving a truck to Super Bowl XXXIV in 10 years. Golly, its a miracle, thank you Lord. I dont ever go out on the field without saying, appreciate it, Lord, you know, for giving me the chance.
Washburn seems genuinely thrilled to be joining the Eagles after a decade and a half with the Titans.
I just felt like I needed a change, he said. Everybody needs a change at some point.
Washburn said hes never lived in a city before and plans to get an apartment in Center City with his wife and make the most of his new life in Philadelphia.
My wife and I, Sandy, were going to get an apartment downtown, he said. Weve never been downtown before. Weve all lived out in the country, ya know, and thatll be cool. My wife loves politics. She loves art and plays. Its nice that you can get on the train and go to New York, she loves D.C. Its going to be cool for us. Empty nesters, obviously. Going to be fun. Looking forward to it. I like it here.
Eagles fans will love Washburn. Hes got the same brutally honest, self-deprecating, down-home, country personality as Charlie Manuel. Unfortunately, because Reid does not allow his position coaches to speak with the media, we may never hear from Washburn again.
So fans will have to settle for having a first-rate defensive line coach for the first time in a few years.
He paid a steep price for his mistakes, and its made him a better person, and the Eagles are lucky to have him.
Coming down to the last stretch of my career and I want this to be the best, he said. I mean it. Bottom of my heart. Im going to try the best I can. That might not be good enough, but Im going to give it everything Ive got, I promise you that. Because this teams close. You guys might not believe that, but I really believe that.
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E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org