Former Teammates Say Allen Said ‘Nigger’ in 1971

Salon quotes three former teammates saying George Allen used the word “nigger” frequently in the early 1970s.

Three former college football teammates of Sen. George Allen say that the Virginia Republican repeatedly used an inflammatory racial epithet and demonstrated racist attitudes toward blacks during the early 1970s.

“Allen said he came to Virginia because he wanted to play football in a place where ‘blacks knew their place,'” said Dr. Ken Shelton, a white radiologist in North Carolina who played tight end for the University of Virginia football team when Allen was quarterback. “He used the N-word on a regular basis back then.”

A second white teammate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from the Allen campaign, separately claimed that Allen used the word “nigger” to describe blacks. “It was so common with George when he was among his white friends. This is the terminology he used,” the teammate said.

A third white teammate contacted separately, who also spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being attacked by the Virginia senator, said he too remembers Allen using the word “nigger,” though he said he could not recall a specific conversation in which Allen used the term. “My impression of him was that he was a racist,” the third teammate said.

AllahPundit thinks Allen is “done, done, done, beyond even the ability of a teary Robert Byrd-esque error-of-my-ways confession to save him.” Mary Katharine Ham has her doubts, both about Salon’s journalistic ethic and the charges themselves. “If he’s such a raving, gall-durned racist, why didn’t all of this come out before and prevent him from being Governor and then Senator”?

They’re both probably right.

The evidence continues to mount that Allen has a strange fascination with the Old South and its customs. It’s hardly a stretch to believe he used the word “nigger” as a college student in the early 1970s. As with James Webb’s rantings against women in the military a few years later, what is shocking now was par for the course at the time (see my TCS Daily article “I Know You Are But What Am I?” for more on that).

Fair or not, however, Allen is now caught in a media meme. The New Republic, Washington Post, Salon, and others all now presume that he’s a Confederate sympathizing racist and every new allegation is treated as corroboration. The fact that most of Allen’s teammates interviewed for the Salon piece disputed the charges or that he has a long record of public life seems not to matter.

Joe Gandelman is right:

[The] assertion by itself wouldn’t be enough to be damaging…if it hadn’t come within the context of (a) the previous statements, (b) the “macaca” incident and Allen and his staff’s varying explanations of why he put his foot in his mouth and (c) the recent flap over him being asked about being partly Jewish and the clumsy answer he gave that created another mouth-induced political wound.

Conversely, since Webb is perceived as a straight shooting war hero–and running as a Good Guy Democrat, no less–various racist and sexist statements and actions are shrugged off as anomolies.

Regardless, it’s hard to see how Allen recovers sufficiently to be a serious presidential contender in 2008. He’ll have an uphill fight just to beat Webb in November now.

UPDATE: Dan Riehl points out that Shelton is a founder of the anti-tobacco group “Tobacco Free For Life,” which gives him a stake in torpedoing pro-tobacco Allen. That doesn’t make him a liar, of course, but it does provide context for the “Why now?” question.

UPDATE: Jon Henke has a lengthy rebuttal to the Salon piece at the Allen Campaign website.

Aside from Salon’s own admission that 16 of the 19 people contacted did not remember any evidence of racism from George Allen — in fact, the seven people who knew Allen well during that time period specifically said that “did not believe he held racist views” — we’ve got statements from a great many former peers of Allen that specifically debunk these charges.

Among the many quotes, it is pointed out that Allen went to UVA because he dad was coaching the Redskins, not because he wanted a place where “coloreds knew their place” (a point that occured to me earlier as well but I failed to mention) and that Shelton had the nickname “Wizard” before Allen joined the team.

It’s a detailed and convincing response, especially when the guy making the one charge that can’t be effectively rebutted (that 16 of 19 people never heard Allen use the “N-word” doesn’t mean the other 3 didn’t) has reason to lie.

As Henke notes, “This Salon story is evidence of the Democratic Party growing comfortable with the ‘Swiftboating’ tactics they’d previously decried.” Unfortunately, we’ve entered an era where no lie or smear is considered out of bounds. Sadly, it’s damned effective. Incendiary charges will stick with some percentage of the public regardless of how swiftly and effectively they’re disproven. And unless the Webb campaign can be directly tied to the smear, there’s really no downside from their perspective.

UPDATE: Steven Taylor pronounces Allen’s 2008 presidential run “Toast.” Can’t say I disagree.

UPDATE: Henke updates his post with a statement from a black teammate of Allen’s.

Statement from Rev. Gary Ham, defensive corner on the University of Virginia football team 1969 thru 1973. Rev. Ham was one of the African-American players on the UVA football team at the time:

“Let me say honestly, that I was not a close acquaintance with Senator Allen during our football days at UVA but I do not recall any language or behavior that was racist in nature.

“I have better recollections of Senator Allen when he was the Governor of VA. Although I disagreed with the position which he took on Martin Luther King Day, I believed him to be a man who was open to dialogue with African-Americans and other minority groups. He did much to promote outreach to poor neighborhoods and communities through faith-based initiatives.”

Not definitive, by any means, since one presumes Allen would have enough sense not to have used the word “nigger” around black teammates. Still, Allen was the starting quarterback for the Cavaliers, so it’s not as if he was some guy on the bench whose demeanor would have gone unnoticed.


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FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, 2008 Election, Congress, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stormy70 says:

    Dan Reihl actually googled the man making the accusations and he is head of some left-wimg outfit. This is just more election hijinks, and I think this will backfire.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Swiftboat Veterans redux? Expect more of the same from the Allen camp on Webb’s military record. What goes around, comes around.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Yep, my most recent TCS piece on this is looking more prescient. This character assassination stuff is pretty dirty–and completely unnecessary. There’s plenty of actual policy differences between the two candidates.

  4. Brainster says:

    Shelton’s also donated to a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2000. And I don’t know about you, but the story about Shelton writing down his negative memories of Allen, “just in case” a reporter called sounds a little too convenient.

  5. The real question is if someone who writes a paen like this can be elected to the senate.

    The Confederate Memorial has had a special place in my life for many years. …And there were many, many times that I found myself drawn to this deeply inspiring memorial, to contemplate the sacrifices of others, several of whom were my ancestors, whose enormous suffering and collective gallantry are to this day still misunderstood by most Americans. …
    I am not here to apologize f or why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that “the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.”

    But of course, you don’t hear much about this because the writer is a democrat and it would be impolite of the MSM to provide balanced coverage if they want to discuss candidates “fascination witht he confedracy”.

    As a further bon mot. Consider something else written by Alexander Stephans that Webb thinks was so brilliant.

    Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.

    Since he quotes so admiringly of Stephans, perhaps in his heart of heart he agrees with the rest of Stephans ideas.

    Sorry if the facts disrupt your binary view of the world.

  6. Pug says:

    Swiftboat Veterans redux? Expect more of the same from the Allen camp on Webb’s military record. What goes around, comes around.

    I’m sure Webb’s military record will compare very unfavorably to the gallant George Felix Allen’s.

    George has a problem. It’s not just one incident but a long string of…shall we say coincidences?

    You can Google Shelton all you want and trace his politcal donations. Didn’t work against Bob Perry did it? He’s an anti-tobacco doctor? Now that’s just scandalous. Shelton is not the only one making the accusation anyway.

  7. Tano says:

    Yeah. Shelton is a doctor. All doctors are anti-tobacco activists. And an environementalist? He tried to save a few waterfalls in his area. What on earth makes the Republicans think that these things are discrediting?

    Passing sociological note:
    It is good to see that the term “swiftboating” is now accepted, even by Republicans, as meaning an utterly dishonest smear job. Small consolation of course….

  8. Anderson says:

    Henke’s rebuttal overlooks that people compartmentalize their prejudices according to whom they’re with. Lots of people would probably never suspect that Joe Blow tells incredibly vulgar jokes … because he doesn’t tell those jokes around them.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Pug/Tano: That Shelton is anti-tobacco isn’t a problem. Hell, I’m anti-tobacco in many ways. But he’s the leader of an activist group that is diametrically opposed to Allen’s policies. That’s relevant.

    Anderson: True. Still, it’s mighty convenient that we’re first hearing this stuff 35 years after the fact. Most of the Swift Boaters’ charges against Kerry had been made decades before, at least.

  10. Tano says:

    As an example of how bad things are going for Allen, consider that this piece is probably good news, in that it gives a “liberal” target to strike back against, and seems to be drowning out the buzz about the Weekly Standard piece that just came out.

  11. Steven Plunk says:

    I called kids names in school. I guess I can’t run for office. But wait, I was called a honky in school so maybe I can run. Wait again, I called certain girls really nasty names in college, not to their face but to other guys, so maybe I should lay low, out of the public eye. But of course they called me nasty names at times so to hell with that.

    So clearly, uttering any insult about anyone at anytime in the past should/should not disqualify a person for public office regardless of the actual record of representation.

  12. Tano says:

    No Steve, it should disqualify.

    Rest assured, I wont vote for you. Its a question of ones capacity for extending respect – a character issue. If you respect all people (excluding actual criminals or terrorists), then you might be a good representative of ALL the people in your constiuency. Granted, thats not necessarily a widespread virtue, but hey – we should be looking for the best amongst us for positions of power.

    But I wont vote for your tormenters either, if thats any consolation.

  13. Ed says:

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and another stong plume has just gone up.

    Larry Sabato, not a left partisan, just came on Hardball and told Matthews that Allen is lying when he says he never used th N word and basically admitted that he’s heard Allen use it himself.

    It may be all over but the counting.

  14. Stevely says:


    You are truly the most insufferable prig I’ve seen in a decade of being online. Reading your posts makes me nauseous.

    break break

    One named fella and two anonymous ones 35 years ago are just now recalling the Senator saying some rude words. Unbelieveable. Really – I don’t believe a word of it. As pathetic as this is, it is compounded by the Democrats’ inability to judge Webb by the same yardstick… I guarantee you were he running for the other team the Democrat slime squad would have little sexist/ racist gotchas in spades.

    Oops. I said “spades.” Better stay out of politics.

  15. andy bradshaw says:

    The controversy regarding whether or not Republican Senator George Allen uttered a few bad words back in college is instructive and goes some way to illustrating what my right-of-center friends call media bias. According to the extensive press coverage on the matter, a former college football teammate claimed that Allen frequently used a racial slur to refer to black people.

    So far, so bad. For his part, Senator Allen has produced at least five witnesses to attest that he did no such thing. Now let’s leave the Virginia Senate race and go to Colorado.

    In 1987, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter — then a state prosecutor — left his job to run a non-governmental agency in Zambia, Africa. Ritter returned to Colorado a hero and was appointed Denver’s District Attorney in 1993.


    Two months ago, the Denver Post reported the following in a background piece on candidate for Governor Ritter: “Barely a year into his service, he accidentally killed a man – an episode he rarely talks about and didn’t bring up in multiple interviews with The Denver Post until asked.”

    Ritter explained that the death was accidental, his explanation was accepted, and the story died.

    Then a Denver attorney decided to contact an attorney in Zambia to look into it. The Zambian attorney retraced the incident, the documents, the details. In a formal report, he claimed that Ritter had been speeding. He wrote that the widow of the man Bill Ritter killed, “complained bitterly that Mr. Ritter was not prosecuted and that no proper explanation was ever given by the Police or the Courts as to why Mr. Ritter was not prosecuted. She also complained about the family not having been compensated after the death of her husband.”

    The report continued: “a police docket, or file was opened, to investigate the matter” and take action under a formal complaint. But, no charges were ever filed and “the docket and all other records of the case went missing in very suspicious circumstances.”

    Bill Ritter worked for a very important non-governmental organization at a time when Zambia suffered under authoritarian one-party rule. Ritter left Zambia early and returned home to Colorado where he used his work in Africa to help him secure his first political office.

    Democratic candidate for Governor Ritter has never produced a witness to corroborate his story. And strange for a lawyer, Ritter has never produced a single document to clear his name. You would think a prosecutor with political ambitions would have kept some document to clear his name — if one existed.

    But Bill Ritter doesn’t have to, because the press has taken his uncorroborated word on the matter. Members of the Denver media are on record as saying “it was an accident” and refuse to ask Ritter for documentation or even call the Zambian attorney who wrote the report.

    A naughty word said, a man killed. A Senate race in Virginia, a Governor’s race in Colorado. One a Republican, one a Democrat. Strange how these things work. I know what my conservative friends would call it. Maybe they’re on to something?

  16. Tano says:

    Translation of Andy.

    A Denver lawyer decided to dig up some dirt on a local politician who had spent some time in Africa. He hired a Zambian lawyer to find some dirt. The Zambian lawyer (surprise) wrote a report alledging some dirt.

    A docket was opened because of a complaint – from the paid investigating lawyer, not apparantly from anyone involved in the accident.

    The non-existence of any charges being filed is spun to leave an impression of guilt instead of the obvious implication – that there was no reason for charges to be filed.

    When the attempted smear doesnt get picked up, for it obviously flunks the smell test, then blame the “biased media”

    Title this piece: Anatomy of an Incompetent, and Unsuccessful Political Hit Job

  17. jt007 says:

    How many of the Allen critics in these comments won’t be voting for Hillary in 2008 because she called Paul Fray a “f***cking Jew Bastard” in front of three other people who are all on the record confirming that she said it? Fray passed a lie detector test and, while this was also over 30 years ago, Hillary was an adult when she said it.*

    *I left out the word “allegedly” because none of the Allen critics used it

  18. Andy Bradshaw says:

    Mr. Tano seems to know a lot. Does he always form opinions before reading? Did he read the report. Speak with either attorney? No, the truth is not his intent.

    I could, with our hosts’ indulgence, post the entire report. Perhaps Mr. Tano would like to speak with the attorney who wrote it — or even accompany me to Zambia to interview the widow?

    But would he break out from his cliches even then?