They were supposed to celebrate that night. It was mid-August, and Kyle Fuller, Eric Schulman, and Jerry Castro were all together in Nashville. The Tennessean had posted an article about their book project, a Kickstarter-funded look at Fuller's life as a Vanderbilt basketball player and student entitled Below the Rim: The Dirty Side of College Basketball. They were excited about the press and getting ready to celebrate later that night with a house party—they even had a banner printed out with the name of their website on it—when Fuller glanced at his phone and grew quiet.
His co-authors wanted to know what was wrong; he showed them his phone. His mother had forwarded him a string of text messages she'd received that appeared to be from Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings.
This wasn't the first barrage of messages from Stallings. He had sent another set to Fuller's mother a few weeks earlier, on Aug. 1. But this one cut deep, Schulman and Castro told me recently, and touched off a round of harassment so intense they thought the project might be done. (This is a good place to note that Deadspin reached out to Vanderbilt and the principals involved in this story multiple times for comment, and offered to show these text messages to them. A Vanderbilt spokesman declined comment.)
"It was mostly the harassment Kyle was receiving and the toll he was taking," Castro said. "All these people he had trusted for four years turning on him."
What was Vandy so afraid of? In the end, it seems like nothing much more than the idea that Fuller's book might expose something everyone already knows—that Vanderbilt athletes are not necessarily chaste scholars who fit extracurricular activities in between rounds of studying Themistocles and the Planck constant—and in so doing tarnish the image of its athletic programs. This image, which is worth millions of dollars, depends on the acceptance of a series of polite fictions for its maintenance; the irony of this story is that it's the way Vanderbilt defended it, much more than anything Kyle Fuller ever did, that best shows just how fictitious they are.
There are two halves to Kyle Fuller's career at Vanderbilt. The first ends in uncertainty, with the recruit from Moreno Valley, Calif., slipping to the team's third option after playing in just 18 games in his sophomore season. The second is about redemption. After losing his father to lung cancer in the offseason, Fuller returned to Vanderbilt and started every game, averaging 8.7 points and 1.9 assists as a junior and 11 points and 4.2 assists as a senior, along with double-doubles in points and assists against Kentucky and Tennessee. He might have transferred after his sophomore season, Fuller said, but his father convinced him otherwise.
"My dad told me I'm not a quitter," he told USA Today in 2012.
The book project started in mid-April of this year, as Fuller was getting ready to graduate. (At the moment he is weighing his options between the NBA Developmental League and Europe.) The starting point guard lived in the same dorm as Schulman, a sociology major who was taken aback by how different their experiences were, even though they went to the same school and lived in the same dorm. There was, for instance, the time Fuller had one woman in his room when another showed up at his door. His solution was to hide one in his suitcase while taking a walk with another—and having Schulman come to unpack her.
"I was like, Kyle, we need to get these stories together and make a book about the college athlete experience," said Schulman, who's a senior this year. "The Vanderbilt I go to and the Vanderbilt he went to are not the same thing."
So they got to work. Schulman figured he might need some help and asked fellow Vanderbilt alum Jerry Castro, who had some business experience, to join him. Then they reached out to Outkick the Coverage's Clay Travis, who was interested in the project. He talked to them about how to get attention for the book, and about excerpting it on Outkick; Schulman and Castro were thrilled. In May, they pounded out a 12-page treatment for Travis with different themes and stories they wanted to include in the book, informally titling it "It's A Fucking Job." Travis, who said he was busy, passed the writing on to another editor working at Outkick, Lori Kelly.
What will be in this book? So far, three excepts have been published, one in the Vanderbilt student paper, the Hustler, and two on BroBible. (Deadspin also received copies of "It's A Fucking Job" and several excerpts earlier this year.) The excerpts talk about Fuller's relationship with his family and friends back home, playing basketball, the time someone slipped $1,000 in his to-go order bag. And there's sex—lots and lots of hot, hormonal sex at the so-called Harvard of the South. From "It's A Fucking Job":
I have done things in my four years here that an average person can't even comprehend. I've slept with 5 girls in a day, I've slept with girls mom's. I've even used sex as a form of currency. That's what being a starting Point Guard in the SEC does for you. Status gives you two girls outside your room, complete strangers, waiting for you after a game. They ask you which one you want the most and then the one you pick walks right in and fucks you.
There are all different types of sex. One excerpt describes the results of a night when Fuller and a friend went to a party at Lipscomb University, a private Christian college in Nashville. At the party, they're greeted with racist posters and a Confederate flag, and meet a group of guys who ask if it's OK to say the N-word. Fuller's friend, Trey, tells them no, and then one of them does anyway, rapping along to the song "My Nigga" and saying it out loud every single time. There's almost a fight before Fuller and his friend leave. Back home, Fuller gets text messages from one of the girls at the party, asking him to come over.
Savannah: "You should come back, I know you're mad and I can cheer you up"
Kyle: "What do you mean?"
Savannah: "My fiancée and his friends are not around. I don't want you going to bed mad ;)"
Surprised, I show the text to Trey.
"Zoom you need to go over there right now and fuck that dude's bitch."
Jaw clenched tight, hands locked on her hips, I fuck this girl harder than I have ever fucked a woman in my entire life. Every single pump and every single thrust is out of anger. In my head I replay the moment they called me a nigger and get even more pissed off.
There's also sleep-with-a-girl-then-sleep-with-her-mom sex. From a different excerpt sent to Deadspin in May:
Before Ellen could say another word, I start pumping like a piston. Problem solved. Twenty minutes later I bust and take a dive onto the bed. She rolls over and smiles. Mutual satisfaction. Ellen stays for a couple more hours before she starts gathering her belongings. Halfway out the door, she looks back and says "one last thing, please don't tell my daughter."
And a blowjob race, recently excerpted on BroBible:
The rules are simple. First man to cum wins. No face fucking. No head dribbling. No pumps and no holds. You have to try your absolute hardest NOT to cum. That last one's on the honor code. We take it seriously here.
Also, I almost forgot. Make sure you last at least one minute.
Now back to the race.
We've just passed the one minute barrier.
And I'm feeling pretty damn good about my chances. My girl just started tickling the balls sending chills down my spine… She starts to deep-throat and I'm almost there. I start thinking about victory celebrations.
In a promotional video for the book's Kickstarter, Fuller leans into the video and warns, "I'm about to tell you what the NCAA does not want you to know."
The authors first heard from Vanderbilt in early June, when text messages they say came from basketball operations director Dan Cage arrived on Fuller's phone. (In these messages, "ks" refers to coach Kevin Stallings and "Lori" refers to the editor working with Travis.)
Lori Kelly denies that she told Cage. But Kelly said she did tell one of the stories she read to a friend who went to Vanderbilt, because she thought it was funny. Within a few weeks, Cage had heard about it. Vanderbilt eventually did get a early draft of the book, but it wasn't Fuller who sent the draft, his co-authors said; it was Fuller's mother, using her son's email account, in hopes that reading the manuscript would allay Vanderbilt's fears. (Fuller's mother declined to comment for this story.)
For a while, that was all anyone heard from the school. In late July, Fuller returned to Nashville to work on the book and the promotional video. There was a fundraising goal—$30,000—and a new plan to self-publish through Lion Crest Publishing. On July 31, Fuller posted a few clips from a video shoot on his Instagram page, where he mentions the book and gets interrupted by people wanting his picture. The next day, Stallings texted Fuller mother, and she forwarded the texts to her son. (These images look different from the other set of Stallings's texts because they are pictures of the mother's phone.)
In the messages, Fuller's mother asked Stallings to send her a copy of what he's talking about. He forwarded her this email from Dan Cage:
The authors tried not to worry about those messages—the trio hadn't heard directly from Vanderbilt for months, after all—and got back to work. They launched their website and a Kickstarter, and published the promotional video. The Tennessean wrote about the project, and the night the article was published, the messages from Stallings began coming.
"Then Kyle gets a phone call from his mom and the text messages start coming in and he shuts down real quick," Schulman said. "We tried to comfort him, but he asked us to leave. It was one of the few times we've seen Kyle break down. He's a tough guy."
What really hurt, according to his co-authors, was that Stallings had mentioned Fuller's late father in his texts: "[H]e's going to dirty the family name–his fathers name no less." Within days more texts poured in, mostly former Vanderbilt players telling Fuller to stop. Castro said he saw a Snapchat to Fuller from one former player now in the NBA showing his screen with a copy of what they wrote on it. Someone also sent a copy to the father of the girl whom Fuller was dating, and she immediately dumped him. That was probably the worst thing, the co-authors said. Fuller had been dating the woman for a few months, and it had started to get serious.
"That," Schulman said, "definitely was the dirtiest move." The co-authors provided us with a text the woman sent Fuller.
On Aug. 24, Fuller's mother sent a letter to Vanderbilt's athletics director, David Williams, but never got a reply. Schulman and Castro started calling Williams's office and kept calling until they got an appointment. They presented Williams with all the evidence they had, the same evidence they gave to us. Castro said Williams didn't even look at the messages, saying he needed to talk to the school's general counsel. He promised them he would look into what had happened. When Castro sent a follow-up email a week later, Williams responded:
Should Vanderbilt be afraid? Anyone who follows college sports already knows the issues. College athletes work hard for for little or no money. Burdened by team commitments, they don't get the same education the rest of us do. They get shady offers for under-the-table money. They have a lot of sex. The details in this book will be unique—every one of us has a story that's unique—but college sports is a mass product and like any such product, from the assembly-line car to the iPhone, the sameness is part of the package, essential to its appeal. Every year players graduate, new ones come in, and fans and boosters root for whoever takes the court as if nothing has changed except the athletes who don't own the rights to their own names.
It's what's around the game that changes: the TV exposure, the million-dollar deals (for the coaches and administrators, of course), the thousand-dollar tickets for national championship games. And when that much money is on the line, everything is worth freaking out about—especially if it might make a booster think twice before signing a check. Vanderbilt isn't doing anything different than what any other business freaking out over possible bad press would do. The difference is that very few of those businesses need to defend anything quite like the sham amateurism from which Vanderbilt profits.
Fuller's story is the story of college sports as they're lived by the players, even, to some extent, after they've graduated—under the watchful eye of universities that want to control them exclusively to the university's benefit. Maybe pursuing this book is a great idea and maybe it's a horrible one, but either way, it's a decision for Fuller, Schulman, and Castro to make. They are, after all, adults. You wouldn't know that to go by the the language used in the text messages—needy for attention, reflect badly on me and my program, I know everything. This is the posture and phrasing used with an irresponsible child, and its use points up the real issue here: there may be no real threat to Vanderbilt in tales of a point guard's wild sex life, but there is one in him telling it.
The fundamental fiction of big-time college sports is that the relationship between institution and athlete is one that leaves young people owing more than they're owed. It isn't; beneath the rhetoric about molding fine young men, it's basically a business arrangement set up on corrupt terms, in which the benefits are nowhere near so mutual as they should be. Allow Kyle Fuller to treat it as one, and who knows? Players, and even the public, might start thinking about all of this as exactly what it is.
Image via Associated Press