Charley Pell’s Legacy

Another one of Bear’s Boys makes it into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame this week:  Charley Pell.

Most of us, when we think of Pell we think of only one thing: he got caught cheating at Florida.  Yes, he did, but there’s much more to the Charley Pell story than just that.  On Monday, Jon Solomon posted a reminder at

Here’s what’s not mentioned.

The phone call Pell received from a stranger saying the ex-coach had saved his son’s life. As described by Pell’s widow, Ward Pell, the stranger was watching “Dateline NBC” as Charley discussed his 1994 suicide attempt and coping with depression. The man went to get his depressed son to watch and found him on his bed with a pistol in his hand. The son got help.

The letter Pell got from a California doctor thanking him for better understanding his father’s suicide. The doctor had hated his father for killing himself. He returned his dad to a pedestal after hearing Pell explain the abyss he sunk to before trying to take his life.

The impact Pell still makes in the mental health community 11 years after dying of cancer.

Four years ago, the Alabama Department of Mental Health made a 17-minute film on Pell’s life to show depression is a treatable illness. Ward Pell, who now lives in Lexington, Ky., still hears from people about the film, particularly high school coaches who show it to players. Ward makes about 10 speeches a year on behalf of mental health organizations.

Pell was definitely persona non grata in the football world after he left Florida.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was for Pell to cope with in addition to or on top of depression.

Here’s another blurb from that article that caught my eye:

“There was a difference in the NCAA then and now,” Ward said. “They decided to become the white knights on charging horses. One of the investigators told us after the fact he had a choice (where to investigate). They had a school in the North and a school in the South and it was January. So where do you think they would go?”

Charley Pell and Florida were guilty of cheating, there’s no doubt about that.  But it does kind of make me wonder who the school in the North was that got a pass.