For four months, Sharon Lee has been consumed with clearing her son’s name.
She is the mother of University of North Carolina fullback Devon Ramsay, who learned Thursday that the NCAA had rescinded the permanent ban it placed upon him in November.
“I don’t think anyone has been able to have a conversation with me that this wasn’t a part of it,” Lee said late Thursday night. “I was the person you didn’t want to invite to your holiday party.”
Ramsay played in the first four games of the 2010 season, but missed the last nine after officials found his e-mail exchange with tutor Jennifer Wiley regarding a three-page sociology paper in November of 2008.
The NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible. But all along, Lee said her son was being punished simply for turning to a tutor whose job was to assist athletes with their work.
“There was so much substance behind him, I never felt it wouldn’t come out positive,” she said. “It was just, how long will this take?”
Lee said her son, too, was confident when UNC appealed the NCAA’s decision. But she was afraid he was being naïve and wanted to do everything she could to ensure the outcome she thought was proper.
She met with UNC officials, who she deemed extremely helpful. She tried to get through to the NCAA, but couldn’t discover a mechanism to do so. She called The News & Observer and asked to speak with a reporter.
At a Chapel Hill coffee shop on a Sunday morning in November, Lee explained her concerns, choking back tears a couple times before departing on her long drive home to New Jersey.
Lee admitted that she has concerns about football as the results of more research on concussions because available. But she knows her son loves the sport.
“Football has been so much a part of who he is,” she said Thursday.
She had another concern, too, which was far more important in the long term than whether Ramsay would ever block a linebacker or score a touchdown.
Being banned by the NCAA for life because of an academic situation carries a negative connotation. It’s not difficult to imagine employers in the future shunning Ramsay if it was their impression that he cheated in college.
Ramsay shouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. After reading about Ramsay in the newspaper, Robert Orr got in touch with Lee.
Orr is a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice and the executive director and senior counsel of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law.
He asked for the reinstatement hearing scheduled for December to be canceled because the hearing presumed that Ramsay had committed an NCAA violation. Instead, he asked the NCAA to take a closer look at whether Ramsay had violated NCAA rules to begin with.
After a second look, the NCAA agreed that no violation had occurred. Ramsay was cleared and reinstated to return to the team for his senior year. It happened so suddenly that his mother didn’t know what to do.
She compared it to being hit by a lightning bolt. Ramsay’s problems had vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.
“It’s kind of like being in a hailstorm,” she said. “It starts. It does its damage. And then it goes away.”
Orr said there may be a lesson for parents in what Lee did. She believed in her son and fought to get him cleared.
She was confident enough that he had done nothing wrong that she sent the newspaper copies of e-mail exchange between Ramsay and Wiley. Although Wiley did suggest some significant changes, the e-mails showed that Ramsay understood the material and knows how to write a paper, as Lee had said earlier.
When it was over Thursday night, Lee was asked what she was going to do next. She had a lot of congratulatory phone calls to return. But she wanted to build a fire in her fireplace and then sit.
It has been a cold winter, and this weary mother finally could relax and feel some warmth.
David Scott has been with the Observer for 28 years and has written about ACC, SEC and other college sports in the Charlotte region. He covers Wake Forest, South Carolina and college soccer for the Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer.
J.P. Giglio covers the ACC for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1997, and the Observer.
Andrew Carter covers the North Carolina Tar Heels for the Observer and News & Observer.
Laura Keeley covers the Duke Blue Devils for the Observer and News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter.
Chip Alexander covers the Carolina Hurricanes and college football for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1979, and the Observer.
Luke DeCock has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist for the Observer and News & Observer in August 2008.