The bookends of Clyde Turner's public life seem to belong to two different men.
On Jan. 25, 1972, Turner committed the flagrant foul that preceded the infamous brawl between the Minnesota and Ohio State basketball teams.
On May 14, 2009, Turner, 58, received the Dean's Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development.
The former remains a bad memory. The latter is a testament to his good works. Turner vows he'll never forget either.
"This has been a very nice journey," Turner said last week. "There have been some ups and downs. It's like a rock. You're going to tumble, you're going to roll around, but each time that has happened, it has made me a little smoother. That's what I try to tell the kids."
There are many such "kids." Turner has 10 grandchildren. He has worked for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and for foster care agencies. He co-founded Past Athletes Concerned About Education (PACE), and in 2002 he became the manager of the Intake Division of the Child Protection unit. In 2007, he became manager of the Ramsey County Family Services Division.
He founded the Clyde Turner Educational Basketball Camp 26 years ago and has served on numerous charitable boards.
His journey was neither linear nor painless. He arrived at the U out of Robert Morris Junior College just before Bill Musselman became the Gophers' head coach. "We didn't see eye to eye," Turner said. "He didn't recruit me. He came in and said, 'What kind of ballplayer are you?' I said, 'I think I'm a pretty good basketball player.' He said, 'I don't know about that.'
"He challenged me to a two-on-two basketball game, and he said, 'I'll guard you, Clyde.' I didn't let him score. I told my teammate, 'We're going to play best-of-three, and I'm going to score every time on him.' So after we were done playing, I said, 'Well, I guess I'm going to transfer now,' and he said, 'Oh, no, you're not.' That's a true story."
Turner became the Gophers' leading scorer and won a Big Ten championship ring he still wears. Like his teammates, though, he can't escape the memories or implications of "the brawl."
On Jan. 25, 1972, Ohio State beat the Gophers at Williams Arena. Ohio State center Luke Witte had elbowed a Gophers player in the face at the end of the first half. With 36 seconds remaining in the game, which Ohio State won, Turner was called for a flagrant foul on Witte and ejected.
Gopher Corky Taylor helped Witte up, then kneed him in the groin. A violent brawl ensued with Gopher Ron Behagen stomping on Witte's head and Dave Winfield punching another Ohio State player in the face, as fans leaped onto the court and threw punches of their own.
The Big Ten suspended Taylor and Behagen for the remainder of the season, and the Gophers received scathing criticism throughout the country.
"We knew something bad had happened, but I didn't realize how big it was until I came home from classes the next day and Walter Cronkite was talking about it on TV," Turner said. "That's a part of my history. What I'm trying to do is turn it into something positive."
Turner was drafted in the third round by Milwaukee but didn't make the team. After he played in Europe, Gophers booster Harvey Mackay interceded.
"When I was struggling really bad after being rejected by the NBA, and when I got back from Europe, I was really angry," Turner said. "Harvey sat me down and said, 'You've got to start making that switch.' "
Turner earned his master's degree in social work from Minnesota and remained motivated by the perceptions cemented by the brawl. "Over the years, I've learned how to talk about it without getting angry," he said. "Because I feel we were treated bad by the press, locally as well as nationally. There are two sides to every story. We were young guys. We came from good families. ...
"We had really good values, educational values and discipline. We wanted to achieve some goals in life. Whether racism was involved or not, we were still working to move forward as young, African-American males. And to be hit with something where we were called a bunch of names, it was very painful. I never really got therapy. I had to work through these issues over the years."
Turner experienced a different kind of closure when he received the dean's award last week. "When I got up in front of 4,000 people and spoke, those words came out in a very powerful way," he said. "It was spiritual. To have this award come from the U of M, it was like ice cream on a cake."
Inspired by President Obama, Turner is considering a career in local politics. "This has been a nice journey," he said. "And I want it to continue."
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com