TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Victor Johnson left the Oklahoma State University football team under on bad terms. He played just nine games im 2009 before being sidelined by a knee injury and then getting dropped from the team after failing a drug test.
Even so, Johnson is among those who now defends the Big 12 program as it comes under scrutiny for a range of allegations including players getting paid for on-field performance, academic fraud and drug use.
Johnson, now a senior at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, said he was misquoted in the five-part Sports Illustrated series describing the revival of OSU's football program from 2001 to 2011. He calls the report "bogus."
"I violated one of their rules - one of their team rules - so I had to leave," he said of his departure. "That was the end of it."
Launched Tuesday, Sports Illustrated has detailed illicit cash payments to OSU players, academic dishonesty including players receiving passing grades for classes they didn't attend and weak enforcement of drug policies. Friday's installment describes sexual encounters between would-be players and some members of a hostess group, "Orange Pride," meant to show recruits and their families around campus.
The report comes after a 10-month investigation that included interviews with 64 former OSU players - including Johnson. As the NCAA and OSU review the allegations, some of those players mentioned in the series - including Johnson - are publicly backing away from their comments or saying they were misquoted.
The series quotes Johnson as saying he probably could have stayed on the team - even after failing drug tests - had he not been injured. In an interview with the Tahlequah Daily Press, he denied saying that.
Johnson said he isn't afraid to admit his arrest on a complaint of obstructing an OSU police officer and a charge of marijuana possession. He said he told the Sports Illustrated reporter he failed a drug test, and, "That's why I left."
In the series, Johnson also comments on OSU standout Dez Bryant's being named a Big 12 academic all-Americans even though Bryant didn't go to class unless escorted by a team tutor. He's quoted as saying, “You didn’t have no choice but to laugh at it."
Johnson now contends he was only laughing over the question posted during the interview. He said he's never said anything bad about Bryant or OSU.
Now a senior safety at Northeastern State, said he wasn't sure how Sports Illustrated got his number, and that he was lured into the interview thinking the reporter was working on a story about his career since leaving Oklahoma State.
On Thursday, the magazine released a statement supporting its reporting:
“In its 10-month investigation of the Oklahoma State football program, Sports Illustrated spoke independently with more than 60 former players and eight former assistant coaches as well as members of the university’s administration. Interviews were recorded and subsequently reviewed by a team of editors and fact checkers. Sports Illustrated stands behind the work and the investigation.”
Ben Johnson is sports editor of the Tahlequah, Okla., Daily Press.