Peppers' agent: Many UNC athletes unprepared for academics

acarter@newsobserver.comAugust 13, 2012 

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UNC defensive end Julius Peppers on the sidelines during a game in 2000.

SCOTT SHARPE — 2000 News & Observer file photo

— During his years as an academic counselor in the athletic department at the University of North Carolina, Carl Carey Jr. worked with some of the most physically imposing members of the student body. Yet some of them, Carey says now, were “scared to death” of walking into a college classroom.

Now a professional sports agent and a teacher at a college in Texas, Carey worked from 1998 through 2002 as an academic counselor in the athletic department at UNC. He was one of two counselors who worked with the Tar Heels’ football team, and one of the players Carey counseled was former Tar Heels’ All-American Julius Peppers, whose UNC transcript was inexplicably available over the weekend on a UNC website.

“He played two sports, so that was atypical,” Carey said on Monday during a phone interview about Peppers, who also played basketball at UNC. “So it was really double duty, you know. But certainly, in my time at the university, I counseled many overwhelmed student-athletes. Overwhelmed.”

Peppers was among those overwhelmed, according to the transcript. A link to an academic record with Peppers’ name circulated on Internet message boards and Twitter late Sunday night and early Monday morning, before UNC blocked access.

Officials wouldn’t confirm that the transcript belonged to Peppers, but they acknowledged that it belonged to a former student. Carey, who now represents Peppers, an all-pro defensive end with the Chicago Bears, would neither confirm nor deny that the transcript belonged to Peppers.

According to the transcript, Peppers had a 1.82 grade point average after his junior year, majoring in African and Afro-American Studies. He received D’s or F’s in 11 of the 27 classes that clearly listed a letter grade. He did not graduate, according to the university.

A Bears spokesman said Monday that Peppers wouldn’t comment on his transcript, and a member of the NCAA media relations staff said minimum eligibility requirements during Peppers’ playing years weren’t immediately available.

Unprepared for college

To Carey, though, Peppers didn’t represent an athlete who didn’t try or didn’t care about academics. Instead, Carey said, Peppers’ academic struggles were typical of a system that routinely fails athletes who arrive in college unprepared for academic life.

Carey compared the difficulties some athletes encounter while attempting to fit into the world of academia to the struggles an ordinary student would face if he was asked to play football.

“A typical student would fear for their life if they were sent out on a football field with the football team,” Carey said. “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 [high] SAT [scores], guess how they’re feeling?”

Carey taught in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies during his time as an academic counselor, he said, and he also returned to UNC to teach a course – “Foundations of Black Education” – in the summer of 2011. Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of the AFAM department, was criticized for inviting an agent to teach at a time when the UNC program was under NCAA investigation. Nyang’oro was allowed to retire earlier this year when a scandal surfaced involving athletes in no-show classes.

Feeling small in class

The transcript with Peppers’ name, meanwhile, is filled with AFAM courses – not surprising, Carey said, given that Peppers majored in African and Afro-American Studies. A recent UNC internal investigation found 54 aberrant AFAM courses over a span of four years that showed little evidence of any instruction and evidence of unauthorized grade changes.

Still, Carey said it would be “extremely irresponsible” to connect Peppers’ AFAM experience to the current scandal.

After sitting out his first football and basketball season at UNC – known as redshirting – Peppers played football at UNC during the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons, and he played basketball during the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons. He was one of many big men on campus who Carey indicated felt small in a classroom.

“There is a thirst for negativity out there,” Carey said. “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.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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