When the new player appeared on the semi-pro football team of rescue workers, he simply went through Tim or Timmy. He was visibly bad at football, said Randy Knight, a lineman for the team, who took Tim under his wing and taught him the basics: taking a three-point stance, “pulling” on the line. , placing your hand correctly on the line of scrimmage.
They didn’t interact much off the pitch, Knight said, but he played alongside Tim, who was mostly left alone, without incident for more than two seasons.
But in early 2019, another semi-professional football player asked why Knight was playing for the Cleveland Warriors.
“They are racist,” the player said of the Warriors, according to Knight. “The guy who killed Tamir Rice is part of that team.”
Tamir was the 12-year-old black boy shot by a white Cleveland cop in 2014. Knight searched for information on Tamir’s murderer on Google and brought up images of the man he knew as Timmy – Timothy Loehmann.
“I got mad,” said Knight, 32, a former correctional officer who is black.
Loehmann’s involvement with the team became public knowledge last week in a report from a local television station. Knight held a demonstration at the Warriors training center Saturday, claiming that the team’s management lied to him by allowing Loehmann, who was sacked from police in 2017 but not charged with criminal charges in the shooting, to continue playing with the team. Activists and supporters of Tamir’s family have since expressed outrage at the former officer’s presence on the squad, not least because it is part of the National Public Safety Football League, which was established in the ‘origin for the police.
“I think it is reckless and irresponsible for them to allow him to play,” Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “His career as a police officer in the state of Ohio is over for me. It’s just ridiculous.
The league requires players to be active duty emergency responders. Warriors coach Bill Sofranko said that although Loehmann was sacked in 2017, the team allowed him to continue playing while his arbitration appeal was pending and Loehmann was taken out of the squad. team once he lost that call – late 2019, after the most recent season ended. (The league, a group of 20 teams that started playing in 1997, did not play last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Sofranko, who is white, said he allowed Loehmann to continue training with the team and, contrary to what Knight claimed, he never concealed the identity of the former officer.
Loehmann is still trying to regain his job as a Cleveland cop – he’s currently appealing his dismissal in state court. His lawyer, Henry Hilow, said it was unfair for people to criticize Loehmann for being on the football team.
“Anytime he does something now in his life, will there be someone who stings?” Hilow asked. “There have never been any criminal charges against him. Whether people agree or disagree, that is the reality of the situation.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury refused in 2015 to indict Loehmann in the Tamir shooting, and in late December, the Justice Department announced it was closing its investigation into the case without laying charges.
Sofranko, 65, said Loehmann joined the team in 2017 as most players do – he just showed up one day. He was not aware of Loehmann’s involvement in Tamir’s shooting, Sofranko said, until the former officer told him over breakfast after training one morning. Learning that, Sofranko said, never made him question whether Loehmann should be on the squad.
“Why should I have?” Sofranko said.
A former player, who is black and now serves as an assistant coach, said he was initially uncomfortable learning that Loehmann had killed Tamir, but then told the former officer about it.
“I have known Tim personally,” said the former player, who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Lebo. “He was remorseful. He apologized.
Sofranko said Knight never objected to Loehmann being on the team until about two weeks ago, when Sofranko informed Knight that he was being fired from the team because he had left Ohio Corrections and was no longer eligible to play in the league. .
“He’s using that Tamir Rice, that black-and-white thing to support his anger and revenge,” Sofranko said. “Every black person on the team supports Tim Loehmann.”
Knight forcefully denied this. He said the coaching staff seemed to be hiding Loehmann’s full identity – that he had not been introduced to the full squad like most other players are.
Loehmann was wary of him once, Knight said. When Loehmann’s suspension from the police came during a conversation, Loehmann said it was due to a technicality in his resume and that he would return to his job soon, Knight recalled.
Loehmann was indeed fired because he lied on his resume, but Knight said he felt he should have been more open about Tamir’s shooting.
But as soon as he found out who Loehmann was, Knight said, he contacted several members of the team’s leadership, including Sofranko, to complain. Knight provided screenshots of several text messages sent to a member of the team’s board in March 2019 in which he expressed concern about Loehmann’s presence on the team.
“How the hell did this guy get on the team?” Knight said he asked the team’s leadership. “How did we allow this to happen?”
Management has repeatedly assured him that Loehmann will no longer be part of the squad, Knight said. But every time Knight showed up to games, Loehmann was there. Everything exploded ahead of the 2019 league game in Los Angeles.
The team paid everyone there, in part with a contribution of $ 20,000 from Dee Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, according to Sofranko. A spokesperson for the Browns said it was a one-time contribution. The Haslam family were unaware that Loehmann was part of the team at the time, he said, and had no plans to make any further donations.
The night before the game, Knight said, he argued with several teammates over whether Loehmann had made the trip, but he ultimately decided to play so as not to drop the team. The Warriors lost to the Los Angeles Grizzlies, 24-0.
Knight said he decided to return this year after being reassured that Loehmann would no longer be with the team. But Loehmann was at the training center in early January. Before he could object, Knight said, Sofranko told him he was off the team for being disruptive.
“Why is he here?” Knight said he asked Sofranko, referring to Loehmann. “So are you all mad at me for talking?”
Knight returned to practice two weeks later, this time as a protester. Police were called to escort the protesters out of the practice center.