If I’m a Georgia fan, here is what would drive me absolutely nuts:
We just watched our 40-year-old athletics director commit career suicide for making foolish decisions about alcohol and his personal life. It cost him a salary of $550,000 per year and untold other benefits in the future. It also embarrassed the hell out of him and his family. There are no adjectives to fully describe how bad it was and there is no way to truly quantify how much it will ultimately cost Damon Evans both professionally and financially.
In short, it was really, really bad. It was kind of thing you probably wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
So if you’re an athlete at the University of Georgia and you’ve seen one of the most high-profile employees of the school lose almost everything in the space of a few days, wouldn’t it occur to you to be a LITTLE more careful in your behavior–at least for a couple of weeks?
Wouldn’t you say to yourself: “Self, if that can happen to Damon Evans, it sure could happen to me! One day he was running the whole athletic department, making good money, living in a great house, and driving a BMW. Man, he had it all and now he’s GONE! Guess I’d better watch it for a while until things calm down.”
If you were an athlete at the University of Georgia, wouldn’t you at least THINK about that?
Apparently not. Two players were arrested Sunday on alcohol-related charges. They have been suspended from the team. As Mark Bradley points out, that makes seven arrests this year for Georgia football players.
Here is what would drive me crazy if I was a Tennessee football fan: In 2007 we were two bad passes away from winning the SEC championship. Now we’re working under our third head coach in three years. The whole world is telling us that we’ll be lucky to win five games in 2010 but we do have some hope.
Derek Dooley is now our head coach which means that an adult is back in charge. Dooley has made it clear that a change in culture is coming. If you are a Tennessee player and you liked the culture of the previous guy, you’ll find him out on the West Coast serving two years of NCAA probation. Feel free to join him. But if you stay here you better understand that there is a new sheriff in town.
If you’re a Tennessee player wouldn’t you think that maybe–just maybe–it would be a good idea to be careful because a lot of people are watching and this Dooley guy is not kidding around?
Apparently not. The other day Tennessee fans had to look at the searing images of two players covering their faces from photographers as they left a detention facility in Knoxville. An off duty police officer was sent to the hospital while trying to break up a fight in a bar. Media reports say Tennessee players were involved. To what extent will be determined in the future by local law enforcement. One guy has already been kicked off the team.
Needless to say it was a setback for Dooley’s attempt to change the culture of Tennessee football.
Here is where I think we are on this issue.
The vast, vast majority of college student athletes behave themselves and accomplish great things on the field and in the classroom. There are some amazing kids who participate in college sports. We should never forget that.
But within this large universe of good kids, there is a subset of people who participate in college athletics who cannot or will not draw a straight line between actions and consequences. They believe, for whatever reason, that their talent makes them bullet proof and unaccountable. And in some cases they are right. And when they are right, that’s when the adults have to take an integrity check.
It’s easy for me to write this. My professional future is not resting on the behavior of an 18-year-old kid whose ego was so pumped up during the recruiting process that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. It’s easy for me to say that you send the kid packing and let him figure out his future far, far away from your campus.
But I don’t think you ever get a handle on that subset of problem children unless you have a conversation with them that goes something like this:
Young man, you are blessed with enormous talent. But you have a decision to make. Which do you want to do more: Play football and go to school OR engage in anti-social and potentially criminal activity? You can’t do both. If you want to play football we have a great opportunity here and we would love to have you with us because, as I said, you are very talented and we believe you could be very successful as an athlete and as a student.
But if you embarrass our football program and our university, your athletic career can be ended right here and right now. You know that NFL dream you’ve had since you were little? It won’t happen because the pros have decided they are fed up with the Michael Vicks and the Ben Roethlisbergers, and the Pac-Man Joneses of the world. These guys do more background research on a potential NFL Draft pick than the U.S. Senate does on a future Supreme Court justice. They will come to us and ask us what we think of you. And we will tell them the truth.
So on draft day, when you go in the fifth round after your agent said you were a lock to go in the first, you’ll know why.
Now is this kind of harsh? Yeah, I guess it is. Would this potentially hurt a school in recruiting? With a certain kind of kid, probably so.
But Mark Bradley also pointed out in a recent column that one of the reasons Evans had to go was because he was in a leadership position and had seriously damaged the “brand” of the University of Georgia. And that is a really big deal. Do we not hold high-profile student athletes to the same standard? And if we don’t, is it because we think it’s easier to replace an athletics director than a great wide receiver? Again, it’s the adults who are paid to make the tough decisions.
And don’t tell me that this happens everywhere. I know it does. And don’t tell me that some schools are better at covering it up than others. That may be true. Is that the rationale you want to hang your hat on: That everybody does it and some are just better at getting away with it?
But on this issue, fans and media are often guilty of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. When the left tackle gets into trouble and embarrasses your university, you want him gone–right now. But when the backup left tackle gives up four sacks in the next game and your team loses, the coaches suddenly become stupid people and should be replaced.
We can’t have it both ways. Like we just told the athlete who behaves badly, we have a choice. We either want discipline or we don’t. If we do, then we have to be adults and live with the consequences. And if we don’t, we also have to be prepared to live with the consequences as well.
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