If you want to understand a person, they say, talk to those who know him best. If that’s true, you shouldn’t vote for Tommy Tuberville.
Those who know the former Auburn head coach best — his players — say this Trump-loving, racism-embracing version of Tuberville is a person they don’t recognize or trust.
“This is a very serious job, this isn’t something that you just decide to do,” former Auburn standout T.J. Jackson told Slate. “It’s concerning. And a lot of people have begun making the decision to vote for him based on him being a former football coach.
“I’m a guy that played for him: He wouldn’t get my vote.”
Slate interviewed several of Tuberville’s former players, including Jackson (2002-05), Prechae Rodriguez (2005-07), Spencer Johnson (2000-03) and Adlai Trone (1996-99).
Jackson’s comments, however, probably carry the most weight and do the most damage.
Jackson isn’t just some player, nor is he just some dumb jock. He was an all-SEC noseguard at Auburn and an integral part of Auburn’s 2004 undefeated team — a team coached by Tuberville. Jackson also has his doctorate in education from Auburn and has earned a total of five college degrees. He’s currently in law school, won an Emmy for work as a TV sports anchor and runs his own charitable foundation.
When it comes to the present-day version of his former coach — the version of Tuberville that’s repeated birtherism and taken offensive shots at immigrants and aligned himself totally with the worst of Trump — Jackson isn’t buying it.
“It’s very disingenuous,” Jackson told Slate. “He coached a team that had a majority of African American players. And President Trump has no interest in Black males. And so for Coach Tuberville to support someone like that—what does that say about somebody who has always thought this way to make millions of dollars off the same people the president is intending to overlook or mistreat? It’s shameful. It’s downright shameful.”
And this isn’t just your standard political speak, either. Tuberville’s former players seemed to be genuinely hurt by his turn to intolerance, particularly in the face of the poverty and struggle that he’s seen firsthand while visiting players during recruiting.
“I’ll be honest. I didn’t really know what [party] he was representing,” Rodriguez told Slate. “He coached multicultural kids. I would have thought it was gonna be on the Democratic side. You have knowledge of these kids’ backgrounds, where they come from. You sit in their homes and see their circumstances. But with him going on the Republican side, and backing in what Trump is trying to do, it’s raised a level of concern.”
Tuberville has essentially been in hiding the past couple of months, as his handlers attempt to coast to the finish on the strength of the Republican brand in Alabama. He has refused almost all media interview requests and has now also stopped taking questions from supporters at events.
If he still took questions, Trone has a few.
“I’m disappointed, because he did come into everyone’s living rooms and have this personal connection with everyone when they were young, and they weren’t aware of what his political beliefs might be,” Trone told Slate. “I think it’ll be interesting to know what things that Trump has said or done that he does not agree with. I would be curious to know that.”
And these players aren’t alone. They said that among former players, particularly the Black former players, Tuberville’s campaign is not popular.
“At Auburn, we have a really close-knit group of guys,” Johnson told Slate. “We talk about every issue. So there’s been conversations. I’ve got a few guys that do agree with Tuberville and support him. And there’s a majority of the guys who I deal with that don’t. When you talk about Donald Trump, of course some of the guys that are African Americans don’t take kindly or don’t agree with those particular sentiments.”
Ultimately, Johnson summed things up from the players’ perspective.
“It’s tough for me to take what I’ve seen from him as a football coach and put into the realm of politics,” Johnson said. “Yes, you have to be able to recruit and do things like that. But my issue is that I honestly don’t think he’s qualified to do the job.”