In the midst of the euphoria of Saturday’s win over Syracuse, Temple quarterback Walter Washington tied a school record with his 15th touchdown of the season. The player’s record he tied was former Temple running back Paul Palmer, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 1986.
Palmer would have been on the field to congratulate Washington personally, but he wasn’t even at Lincoln Financial Field to watch the game.
Athletics director Bill Bradshaw fired Palmer, who worked for four years as a sideline reporter as part of the team’s radio broadcast, after an argument the two had on Sept. 25. Following a Temple-Toledo game in Ohio, Palmer became upset when Bradshaw would not allow Palmer’s girlfriend, Leah Levine, to board the team’s charter flight back to Philadelphia. Bradshaw felt Palmer’s behavior was unprofessional and decided to fire him.
At this point Palmer, 40, isn’t really sure what he can do to support the team. He just believes his perplexing dismissal “didn’t have to happen.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s a dead issue; we haven’t talked since Oct. 15,” Palmer said. “And I think it’s far from dead.”
While Palmer said the situation is unresolved, Bradshaw and several other University officials see it differently.
“Sharing the details would not be in the best interest of Paul Palmer or Temple football,” Bradshaw said through a University spokesperson Monday afternoon.
In the annals of the football program, Palmer is the most decorated running back in Temple history. He holds more than 15 school records and in 1986 finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
A week prior to the Toledo game, Palmer wanted to meet with Levine, who was in Columbus on business. He said he sought permission from the football program to ask if she could fly back to Philadelphia on the team’s charter flight. The plane is for the team, support staff and some local media.
Palmer was told he would need to ask Owls coach Bobby Wallace for permission. On Sept. 24, a day before the game, Palmer said he received word from an intermediary that everything was fine and went out of his way to thank Wallace.
Levine canceled her original flight, thinking she would be flying back to Philadelphia on the charter. In the second quarter of the game at Toledo, Palmer was informed by Bradshaw that Levine would not be permitted to board the flight. Palmer was surprised by the news.
Following the game, Palmer and Bradshaw met under the goalposts at Toledo’s Glass Bowl.
“[Bradshaw] asked, did Wallace say it was OK? And I said yes,” Palmer recalled. “He was acting as if this was some woman I just met at the bar and decided to bring her home.”
Palmer became angry when Bradshaw answered his cell phone during their talk.
“He answers his phone and he starts talking,” Palmer said. “I look at him and I say, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘I’m talking to my family. Respect my family.’
We’re trying to get something cleared in a situation that was cleared with Coach Wallace, and he’s starting another conversation.”
Palmer did admit to raising his voice while arguing with Bradshaw.
“Yes, I was yelling and yes, I was cursing,” Palmer said. “I didn’t threaten him or make any gestures toward him. And I was just thinking how ridiculous this situation is.”
At the airport, Palmer said associate athletics director Vic Cegles tried to quell the situation by asking him for a monetary donation to the Owl Club, a booster organization.
Cegles refused to comment on the incident.
A week after the spat, Bradshaw told The Philadelphia Inquirer that, “Paul’s friend did not meet the criteria for getting on our charter flight. I hate this had to happen. This was Paul Palmer, one of the best football players to ever to play at Temple. But he lost it out there.”
Palmer said that on the way to Toledo, there were between 15 and 20 unoccupied seats on the flight. To give the larger players more room and comfort on the flight, those flights generally are never at full capacity.
“I’ve never asked the school for special treatment,” Palmer said. “I’ve never demanded to be on the sideline of a game. I’ve never expected to travel with the team until I started working with the team.”
All the while, Palmer and Levine’s luggage was still on the airplane. Cegles informed Palmer he had a ticket and was permitted on the flight. Palmer demanded their bags be taken off the plane. If his girlfriend wasn’t going on the plane, Palmer said, he wasn’t, either.
A short time later, Palmer said he was told by an airport employee if he didn’t leave the tarmac area, he would be arrested.
Asked if he knew that Bradshaw had the final word about making such arrangements, Palmer said, “It was never mentioned to me. It was never mentioned that Bradshaw was the person to talk to.”
Before getting on the flight, Wallace apologized to Palmer for the mix up and conceded that in effect, the decision was never his to make. The plane took off with Palmer and Levine standing on the tarmac. They spent an extra night in Toledo and eventually caught a plane to Philadelphia the following day.
“For whatever reason,” Palmer said, “I think that Bradshaw was offended by someone not going through him and that he wanted to prove that he was the guy that was in charge. So it didn’t matter what anyone said.”
According to Palmer, he received a phone call from Bradshaw the following week and was informed of his dismissal as a sideline reporter. They both agreed to meet the following week.
On Monday, Oct. 4, Palmer called Bradshaw to discuss the situation, but Bradshaw was unavailable. Palmer told Bradshaw he would call him shortly after noon. His call was returned by Cegles. A meeting was never arranged.
Palmer met with lawyer Mark Mendel three days later to look into legal action.
“I would think at the very least we deserve reimbursement for our flight and our hotel, because we had to pay for another night,” Palmer said.
Word of Palmer’s firing quickly spread around the team. Offensive line coach Jim Turner wrote two letters to Bradshaw on Palmer’s behalf.
“What I wrote in those letters was just support for Palmer,” Turner said. “I just don’t know how you can leave a guy on the tarmac at 1 a.m. I don’t care if he is the lowest of the low; he’s part of our family.”
A statement from Mendel said: “There is no question that this matter should be vigorously pursued and all the elements should be made public, particularly coach [Jim] Turner’s letters as well as Bill Bradshaw’s communications addressed to Coach Turner. This matter should not remain in limbo and needs to be resolved. The incident is inexcusable.”
Coincidentally, the day Palmer sought legal action, Mendel said he received a phone call from Stuart Sullivan, vice president for development and alumni affairs. Sullivan asked why Palmer did not show up to a meeting with Bradshaw.
Palmer was stunned and contends that meeting was never scheduled.
“The meeting was never set,” Mendel said. “So they said there was a meeting and there wasn’t. That’s fraudulent.”
It was not until Oct. 15 that Palmer met with Bradshaw, Cegles and Assistant Athletics Directors Joe Giunta and John Baum. Palmer quickly grew sour when they asked Levine, who accompanied him, not to be part of the talks. Sensing distrust, Palmer attempted to record the discussion, and again Bradshaw adamantly refused to go through with the meeting if it was going to be taped.
For that meeting, Palmer wanted Senior Vice President Clarence Armbrister present. Bradshaw reports to Armbrister on issues related to the athletics program and notified him of Palmer’s dismissal.
Armbrister declined to speak with The Temple News on the matter.
Neither side has been in contact since the Oct. 15 meeting.
Before Temple officials barred Levine from boarding the team’s charter flight, she had lent her rental car out to Amy Norman, who was an assistant athletics director for corporate sales until resigning recently. Norman was entertaining people from a car dealership on behalf of Temple.
“So the people that Temple is entertaining are riding around in my girlfriend’s [rental] car,” Palmer added. “We drove their clients around all weekend.”
This is another reason Palmer said he feels cheated.
During last year’s miserable football campaign, Palmer was asked by Temple Athletics to write a letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer to ask that it stop writing incendiary stories about the program’s shortcomings.
During Palmer’s time as a sideline reporter at Temple, he described his relationship with Bradshaw as relatively calm. They did not know each other well, he said.
“It was friendly,” Palmer said of their working relationship. “I’ve always chosen to deal with the ballplayers, then the suits. I’ve always felt more comfortable with them, even when we were on the road. I didn’t think we ever had any problems.”
Mendel believes Palmer should receive an official apology and be reinstated as a sideline reporter; Palmer said he doesn’t expect one because the athletic administrators think they did nothing wrong.
Palmer feels the combustible situation could have easily been avoided.
“That’s not cool for anybody. No one deserves that,” Palmer said. “I believe Bradshaw could have made do if he wanted to. I just thought it could have been worked out, even if it wasn’t me. It didn’t have to be someone that had the accolades and accomplishments as a Temple football player. It could have been done.”
Many players and coaches, like current quarterback Walter Washington, have a similar respect for Palmer.
“If there was one record I relish, it’s Paul Palmer’s,” Washington said, “because I’ve spoke with him often and he’s a great player and a great man.”
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.