William Sanders: Ross a Racist [Transcript]

In an interview with Lansing radio station WQTX on Monday, William Sanders, father of retired Lions' running back Barry Sanders, labeled former Lions' head coach Bobby Ross a racist. Sanders also implied that Ross didn't know how to use Barry correctly.

Below is the transcript of an approximately two-minute portion of the interview Fred Heuman conducted with William Sanders, the father of former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders, on Heuman's radio show, "The Heuman Touch," which airs from 10 am to Noon weekdays on WQTX 92.7 FM and WTXQ 92.1 FM in Lansing, Michigan.

The interview was just over 17 minutes in length, with most of the conversation centering on Barry and his upbringing, as well as general football talk. However, just over 13 minutes into the interview, the conversation turned to the topic of why William Sanders personally, had a problem with Bobby Ross.

Heuman: "What about him (Bobby Ross) didn't you care for?
Sanders: "I didn't like his attitude."
Heuman: "Bobby Ross's?"
Sanders: "Yeah."
Heuman: "In what way, William?"
Sanders: "When Detroit signed Barry, one of the first things coach told Barry was that he wanted to meet his father."
Heuman: "Wayne Fontes?" (Wayne Fontes was Barry's original Lions coach)
Sanders: "Yeah. Not to kiss my butt. (Pause) But to have a courtesy, out of respect."
Heuman: "And Bobby Ross never did that?"
Sanders: (In agreement) "And Bobby Ross never did that."
Heuman: "Why do you suppose he didn't want to meet you? I'd a bought you dinner and buttered you up and bought you a condo to keep that guy (Barry) in the game."
Sanders: "Because Bobby Ross came out of Georgia and I think Bobby Ross got a mindset about black people and their place."
Heuman: "You think it was a racist thing?"
Sanders: (In agreement) "I think it was a racist thing. He never spoke to me. He never wanted to meet me. If he did, he didn't."
Heuman: "Wait a minute now. You think Bobby Ross, with his southern background, his aversion to you and possibly Barry was based on race?"
Sanders: "I think so. (Pause) And I'll debate him."
Heuman: (Pausing in contemplation) "Hmm."
Sanders: "Yeah."
Heuman: "Have you ever said that? I haven't heard that."
Sanders: "Well, nobody's really ever asked me."
Heuman: "Well I am now, and you're saying that you think he was a racist?"
Sanders: "Yeah, I do. (Pause)Yeah. (Long pause) Because he never (Pause) Why would he not want to meet Barry's father?"
Heuman: "I can't answer that, but in fairness William Sanders, most of the players on Bobby Ross's team were black."
Sanders: "That might be true too."
Heuman: "So how could you be a football coach in the NFL and be a racist? (William Laughs)You'd be out of work."
Sanders: "He's out of work too isn't he?"
Heuman: "Well, he's got a job now. He's coaching Army."
Sanders: "Yeah, well that's probably the best place for him."
Heuman: (Laughs) "I see you don't feel strongly about Bobby Ross?"
Sanders: "No I don't because . . ."
Heuman: (Interrupting Sanders) "You never had a conversation with him?"
Sanders: "I walked the sideline many a day, and the man never said anything to me and I never said anything to him."
Heuman: "Did you ever think of walking up and saying ‘Hi, I'm Barry's dad'?"
Sanders: "I thought about it, but then I did not want to intrude on his space. ‘Cause if he wanted to meet me (Pause) he was the head of the team. He could've did that easily."
Heuman: "He knew where to find you?"
Sanders: (In Agreement) "He knew where to find me."
Heuman: "And you insist that part of his problem with you (Pause) and maybe Barry was that he (Barry) was black?"
Sanders: "Yes. (Pause) Yes. (Long Pause-Then Voice Trailing Off) Yes."
Heuman: (With Emphasis and Amazement) "Wow."
Sanders: "Yeah."

Sanders' statements come just two weeks prior to his son's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, scheduled for August 8.

Barry Sanders surprisingly retired on the eve of training camp in 1999 as the Lions' all-time leading rusher and just shy of the NFL all-time mark set by Walter Payton.

Although speculation on the retirement included Sanders' unhappiness with then head coach Bobby Ross, he has maintained to this day that it wasn't due to a personal conflict.

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