What Makes Randy Run

For the country boy from West Virginia, saying the right thing doesn't count for much. Keeping it real does.

By the time he was a senior, Moss had been in the athletic spotlight for almost a decade. If he'd grown a bit cocky, why should anyone be surprised? Yet Tim Floyd, who coached Moss for several years in a summer basketball league, says Moss was more respectful to adults than most give him credit for. "Randy would sometimes have that faraway look, but he was always listening when you didn't think he was. He never disrespected me," Floyd recalls. He could also be something of a mystery, even to those close to him. "There were times where he just didn't talk. He might wake up and he didn't feel like it," adds Floyd, who traveled with Moss on barnstorming basketball tours. "One night I looked him straight in the eye and I asked him, 'When was the last time a male figure told you that he loved you?' And he said, 'Never.' And I said, 'I want you to understand, Randy, I love you. I'm not queer. I'm not homosexual. But I love you.' I hugged him, and he hugged me."

If Moss's fellow West Virginians ever felt a similar affection, it began to erode when, during his senior year, the schoolboy star was arrested on charges that he and a friend, Rayeshawn Smith, had assaulted a white classmate. By most accounts, Smith believed that the white boy had carved the words All Niggers Must Die into a desk and scrawled Rayeshawn's name next to it. According to witnesses, Smith initiated the attack, and Moss finished it, stomping the felled youth one to four times. Initially, the Kanawha County prosecutor charged Moss, who had just turned 18, with a felony--malicious wounding. Ultimately, Moss pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor battery charge and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. But there were other repercussions: He was expelled from school, and Notre Dame, which had offered Moss a football scholarship, rescinded the offer, nominally because he hadn't filled out the paperwork properly.

Disappointed, Moss sought other options, finally settling on Florida State. As a redshirt freshman, he impressed everyone. The following summer he returned to West Virginia to serve out the remainder of his 30-day sentence. Before turning himself in, Moss smoked a joint with a buddy. The indiscretion was revealed by a routine urine test, and suddenly Moss was at the center of a new controversy. Fearing that Moss might be sent to the penitentiary, Tim DiPiero--Moss's lawyer and now agent--called upon an influential friend in Charleston's black community, the Rev. Matthew Watts, to rally support.

Rick Kolodziej for the Minnesota Vikings

"Never in the history of the Kanawha County court system had a case received so much attention," Watts recalls. "There was just a constant drumbeat: He's a thug, he's never been any good, we ought to lock him up and throw away the key. That was the sentiment on the streets of this town. It totally caught me off guard." Part of it, says Watts, was a matter of timing. Moss's troubles came in the middle of the O.J. Simpson trial. The bad behavior of athletes was a leading topic of the day, and people were quick to condemn transgressors. Offended by what he perceived as a gross overreaction, Watts interceded on Moss's behalf. Appearing before the presiding judge, Watts pleaded for leniency and offered to participate in developing a probation plan for Moss. In the end, the judge sentenced Moss to an additional 60 days in jail, including seven days in solitary. The sentence--which resulted in Florida State revoking its scholarship--struck many black people in West Virginia as patently unfair. In poring over the court records, Watt says, he was unable to find another case in which a defendant convicted on a misdemeanor charge had had his probation revoked for a dirty urine test.

"Randy withdrew after that," adds Lorenzo Whitestone. "How many people came through that system who broke their probation by smoking marijuana and wound up on the national news? Who was held in jail for three months? You can't name one." In Whitestone's view, it was all the product of a grandstanding prosecutor. A year earlier, Whitestone had gotten mixed up with some drug dealers in Rand, was shot, and nearly died. "When I got shot, the same prosecuting attorney was in office, but he never showed up at my trial. Yet you get a kid get caught smoking marijuana, and the big-dog DA is in charge of the case? It just wasn't fair." Incensed, Whitestone organized a street rally to support Moss and to protest the racial environment at Dupont High School.

At the time, there were just two black employees--a choral director and a janitor--among the school's staff of 45. According to Whitestone, the dearth of black authority figures at Dupont had long been a sore spot, and it probably exacerbated some of the existing racial tensions between kids from Rand and the students from outlying areas, where they had little if any contact with black people. The fact that Moss had a blond girlfriend (and, by his junior year in high school, a child with her) only made matters worse, says Whitestone. "A majority of the brothers in Rand had white girlfriends. In Rand, it wasn't a big deal. But in some of the surrounding communities, it was," Whitestone adds. "When I went to Dupont, some of the white girls were called nigger lovers. I remember our principal calling some of us black athletes into this office, telling us not to bring white girls to the prom. Now, that's unheard of these days, but that was 1984. I don't think it was that bad when Randy was there. But there were still some of those attitudes."

« Previous Page
Next Page »