Fourth and Long

He was bound for football stardom until that night at Notre Dame. Now Abram Elam struggles for redemption.

When Abram's mother heard the news, she wept. "It's the best Christmas present I've ever gotten," she says.

The $20,000 was given to the KSU women's center.


Even as a youngster, Abram was pegged for football stardom.
Colby Katz
Even as a youngster, Abram was pegged for football stardom.
Above: Coach Budnyk is himself something of a football legend in Palm Beach County. As athletic director of Cardinal Newman High School, he just acquired his 275th career win.  


Right: His senior year, Abram was named Palm Beach County Player of the Year.
Above: Coach Budnyk is himself something of a football legend in Palm Beach County. As athletic director of Cardinal Newman High School, he just acquired his 275th career win.

Right: His senior year, Abram was named Palm Beach County Player of the Year.

When Abram arrived on the Kent State campus in January, he felt like a coma victim who had just awakened from sleep, eternally grateful for everything -- every moment, every step. Anyone who'd listen kept hearing how blessed he felt.

"I've worked hard to bring myself back. I can't take anything for granted now," Abram says, fingering the head of the heavy silver cross that hangs from his neck. "I know that nothing is promised to you. I need to try and turn this all into a positive." The boy, now 22, is dressed in baggy jeans and a loose-collared shirt, but timidity is the outfit he wears best.

"I was concerned that people would judge me from what they heard, without getting the chance to know me," he says quietly. "I knew, though, if they took the time to get to know me, they'd be pleased with the person I am."

Whether his own children will get to know him is another matter. Despite the miles between Ohio and Florida and the dueling demands of class and football, Abram claims he's active in the raising of his three children, who live with their respective mothers in Riviera Beach. When he's asked the sex of his youngest child, however, he pauses before answering, as if he can't remember.

Abram's first few weeks on the KSU campus passed quietly. There had been a few articles about him in the local papers, but they'd been mostly tucked away in the sports section. Dana Curcio, editor of The Daily Kent Stater, the campus newspaper, says she "received more letters protesting the fact that a Starbucks opened at Kent than I did about this."

Then came the January 21 letter to the editor written by Shirley Leeman, Lindsay Charles' aunt:

"He [Elam] helped ruin a girl's life, and he should not be rewarded by being given a football scholarship. The reason it is an issue is that he is a football player, and you are telling the women of Kent State that it is more important to win football games than it is to protect them."

In an editorial, the paper's student board sided with the university. "Many people have stood up and put their reputations on the line for Elam. They do so assumably because they care about him and would rather see him rehabilitated than further ostracized from society," it read. "Ultimately, our society must learn to forgive even the toughest to forgive. No positive change will come from holding Elam in cultural contempt."

University staff remained quiet on the issue. Privately, some questioned whether the $20,000 raised by Riviera Beach was intended as "bribe money" all along.

Kathy Redmond is more than willing to speak. Head of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes in Colorado, she counseled Lindsay Charles after the incident. Redmond is livid that Kent State would give a convicted sex offender a scholarship. The school is setting itself up for a massive lawsuit, she warns, and she'd love to be the one who files it.

Her threats are not without merit: Title IX, the law designed to ban sexual discrimination in schools, prohibits institutions from creating or maintaining "hostile environments" for women. Redmond says Kent State's placement of Abram in a co-ed residence hall might be construed as a violation of the Title IX clause.

"They're taking a huge risk, bringing this boy to campus," Redmond says.

(Abram has since been moved off campus at the behest of the president, according to Pees. Numerous calls to Kent State President Carol Cartwright were not returned.)

But Coach Pees remained resolutely by the boy.

"Look," he says, "it doesn't matter what Abram says -- the court found him guilty of sexual battery. I'm not here to be a judge or a jury. The kid made a mistake, a horrible mistake, but nowhere in the court decision does it say that the kid can't get a college education. Nowhere does it say that he can't be on scholarship. And nowhere does it say that he has to be punished more than the court already did."


At 6:30 on a Tuesday morning, the Kent football team is beginning practice, sheltered from the February snow by the confines of the university fieldhouse.

Pees stands at midfield, a whistle dangling from his neck. His players are lined up by position, waiting anxiously like horses at the starting gate. When the whistle blows, they are off, thighs straining, calves bulking. In the second row, along with the other defensive backs, is Abram Elam.

The boy is dressed in a gray T-shirt with the words "stack em up" lettered on the back. A ring of sweat has formed around his neck. When the sprint is over, he kneels down, heaving.

Shannon Davis, Abram's roommate and a starting defensive back, places a light hand on his back. That, says assistant coach Scott Booker, is emblematic of how the team reacts to Abram's past: with slight acknowledgement. "The team is aware of Abram's situation," the coach says, "but all they see at practice is Abe working hard every day. They admire him for that."

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