TAMPA — Shocked.
Those were just a few of the words two former Storm players and one current one, all black, used when asked if coach Tim Marcum is a racist.
"I was in disbelief when I saw the reports and kept asking, 'Is this for real?' " said Sylvester Bembery, a lineman for the Arena Football League team from 1994-99 and in 2001. "I was very shook up by the whole thing because he has never showed one iota of racism."
The question stems from a deposition Marcum, who is white, gave in December for a lawsuit against former team owner Robert Nucci. During the deposition, Marcum, 67, admitted to possessing and forwarding e-mails that contained pornographic and racially insensitive material from his work computer.
"I've never seen a racist side of him," said Arena League Hall of Fame receiver George LaFrance, who played for Marcum in Detroit (1988-89) and in Tampa Bay (1995-99). "When I heard this, I was like, 'What?' "
Nucci sued Marcum and former Storm owner Woody Kern in June, claiming he was deceived into buying a knowingly worthless franchise. Marcum countersued Nucci in August, claiming failure to make payments as contracted.
In the deposition, Marcum said he viewed and shared the e-mails but considered it a private matter.
"If I'd have known it was going to become public, if I'd have known you were going to get that off my machine, I would have made those appropriate suggestions, 'Don't send me any more. Don't do that any more,' " Marcum said in the deposition. "I thought that was mine. I thought that was a personal thing. And, you know, evidently, it wasn't."
Current Storm lineman Cliff Dukes said he understands how "the e-mails could cause a problem" but said receiving and viewing e-mails shouldn't be a condemnation of someone's character.
"Who doesn't get e-mails from friends with all kinds of stuff in them?" he said. "It doesn't make you a racist. To get to know Coach is to love him as a person."
Bill Wickett, a spokesman for Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment — which owns the Lightning and recently purchased the Storm — said the group is investigating the matter. Marcum has not commented publicly.
Bembrey, whose jersey was retired by the Storm in 2002, said Marcum "made him into a champion" on and off the field.
"I was a better player and a better person for knowing Coach Marcum, and that's how deeply I feel about this," he said. "I can tell you this: I wouldn't have played for the man if he was a racist. And I know all this is hurting him real bad right now."