Floyd: ‘Oh yes, I’ve learned’

The UM system president discusses his conversations with Ricky Clemons.
Thursday, December 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:25 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Last week, Elson Floyd said that he had no contact with Ricky Clemons after the former MU basketball player was hospitalized for injuries suffered during an accident July 4 at the UM system president’s house.

Floyd also said in a statement issued after recorded telephone conversations between his wife, Carmento, and Clemons became public that he did not encourage his wife’s relationship with Clemons and had advised her against it.

However, included in the many hours of those jailhouse conversations are at least two exchanges between Elson Floyd and Clemons, who was in the Boone County Jail for a probation violation related to his guilty plea for assaulting his girlfriend, Jessica Bunge. In those conversations, which each lasted no more than a couple minutes, Floyd advised Clemons on how to deal with hate mail and commented on media coverage of the NCAA investigation into allegations that MU basketball players were receiving improper compensation.

The details

On Aug. 3, Floyd accepted a collect call from Clemons and before passing the phone off to his wife, talked to Clemons about the allegations, which originated with Bunge.

“Yeah, well, she’s going to say that she was with you or something and they gave you a paper — your tutor gave you a paper and you turned it in,” said Floyd. “It never ends, brother.”

In an interview at his office Wednesday, Floyd talked about the controversy that has enveloped him and his family since July 4, when Clemons showed up at a party at Floyd’s Providence Point home. He agrees with critics who have faulted him for becoming involved with Clemons at the request of others, and he conceded that events of the past few weeks will influence how he will deal with similar cases in the future.

“I am out of that business,” Floyd said. “If someone wants to say, ‘Have you learned a lesson?’ Oh yes, I’ve learned.”

Floyd doesn’t remember how it was that Clemons first became entangled with his family. He says he was not at home when someone — he doesn’t recall who — called his house to ask if Clemons could attend the Floyds’ July 4 party. However it happened that Clemons was at the Floyds’ home that day, the couple saw the opportunity to remedy in some small way what the president sees as a larger issue in college athletics.

“I think the fundamental problem is recruiting and admitting a student like Ricky Clemons to the university without an established family network,” Floyd said. “And when that happened, I think a lot of individuals, the Floyds aside, felt the need to fill a vacuum there.”

A caring nature

The injuries Clemons suffered as a result of the accident that afternoon are one reason why Floyd’s wife chose to stay involved with Clemons, the president said. He said his wife has “an incredible sort of mother instinct,” and coupled with her history of working with at-risk youth, evoked a “nurturing persona” toward Clemons.

But Floyd himself displayed a nurturing persona on the evening of July 31, when Clemons phoned the president’s home from the Boone County Jail. Floyd joined in a conversation that included his wife and Amy Stewart, wife of Assistant Athletic Director Ed Stewart, about a piece of hate mail Clemons had recently received.

“Ricky, don’t read it,” Floyd says to Clemons. “Those people are crazy. Don’t even read that crap.”

Floyd says the fact that he talked with Clemons while he was in jail doesn’t contradict his earlier assertion that he had not had contact with him since he was in the hospital recuperating from the injuries suffered in the ATV accident.

“I’ve thought the statement reflected that: I meant physical contact,” Floyd said. “I’m not splitting hairs at all. You know, contact is a phone call to you, and you calling me back. Or, I’m sitting here talking to you. That’s truly contact.”

Floyd said he knew Clemons was calling the house to speak with his wife, but that he was unaware of the “voluminous nature of the calls.” While he and his wife had “some rather direct conversations about the nature of her conversations with Ricky,” Floyd said, there wasn’t much he could do to dissuade Carmento Floyd from taking Clemons’ calls. As for declining to accept the collect calls from the jail when he answered the phone, Floyd says it was something he was not prepared to do.

“Yes, I could have punched that button, I guess, and precluded any other calls from coming in,” Floyd said. “You know, maybe in retrospect that would have been the right thing to have done. But on the other hand, she lives there, too. I have to respect who she is and what she does, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to happen by any stretch of the imagination.”

Content of the tapes

As the relationship progressed, conversation on the tapes occasionally turned to Floyd and the things he could and would do as UM system president. Among the claims made by Clemons and Amy Stewart:

  • July 26: Amy Stewart claimed Floyd planned to get rid of MU Athletic Director Mike Alden.
  • July 28: Clemons claimed Floyd will help him get financial aid for the fall semester, saying, “He take care of me.”
  • July 30: Clemons says Floyd will help him pay the medical bills resulting from his accident.
  • Aug. 1: Amy Stewart said Floyd felt Clemons needs to spend more time with “light-colored sisters.”
  • Aug. 17: Clemons says Floyd advised him to sue the university over the revocation of his scholarship.
  • A big mess

    Floyd reiterated earlier comments that there is no basis for Amy Stewart’s claim that Floyd wants to leave Columbia. Wednesday, the president said he would not speculate on the motivations of Clemons and Amy Stewart, other than “maybe there is some bravado going on there. I have no idea.”

    That disclaimer extends to comments made by Carmento Floyd, he said.

    “There are references made, ‘I’m going to contact this person about whatever,’” Floyd said. “I’ve never done any of that, and I’m not going to speculate on any of that stuff.”

    Floyd said he cannot explain why his wife used the language she did or made some of the statements she made in conversations with Clemons. He acknowledges that those statements have upset people in Columbia and around the state, and he hopes people will ultimately remember the context in which they were made.

    “My point only is that these were conversations that were never made to be public,” he said. “These were conversations, and people say a whole lot of things in conversations.”

    The remarks do not represent his thinking, Floyd said, adding that those who made them — including his wife — aren’t privy to that kind of information.

    “I don’t bring my work home,” he said. “I’m a pretty intense guy, and work pretty hard hours, and going through it again in the afternoon or the evenings is not something that I do. Never have.”

    The release of the tapes has brought to the public consciousness a situation that Floyd has repeatedly called “a nightmare.” He is aware that many people think it is a nightmare of his own making, and that still others find it hard to believe it all took place under his own roof while he knew nothing about it.

    “People keep saying, ‘How could anyone be that disengaged?’” Floyd said. “Genuinely, I was that disengaged.”

    The task at hand

    None of what has transpired means Floyd will never get personally involved with students again, he said. In the future, he said, there will be limits to what he can and should do.

    “I don’t want readers or anyone else(to say) the president is not going to engage any other students. That’s not the case,” Floyd said. “I think that is much too Draconian.

    “What I’ve learned — and it’s been a painful lesson as a consequence of it — is even though well-intentioned people want to give to individuals who are without established networks around them, it can’t happen. It becomes very, very problematic.”

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