The blogosphere can be pretty brutal, but there’s nothing like the columns and letters to the editor in a college newspaper when it comes to finger-pointing, moral absolutes and general snarkiness. The readers and writers are mostly students who’ve yet to experience the real world but have no doubt at all about the way things should be.
Believe me, I know. During my time at UGA I put in a stint editing and writing for The Red and Black’s opinions page.
Wading into a debate in such an environment can be a bruising experience, as Georgia tight end Aron White has found out.
White wrote a letter to The Red and Black recently taking issue with a column the student paper had run about Zach Mettenberger being kicked off the football team as a result of his drunken excursion to South Georgia on spring break.
The columnist, Bailey Keiger, a senior from Atlanta majoring in magazines, blasted Mettenberger for his “childish activities,” but also took a general shot at the school’s athletes, saying “this just shows the level of disrespect some student athletes — especially football players — have for their position at the university.”
She conceded that practice takes up a lot of the student athletes’ time but noted “they are given extra perks like a state-of-the-art training facility separate from the ‘regular’ student gym, and an exclusive studying center where they are given access to tutors and other academic resources.”
She declared herself a “huge sports fan” who has “attended almost every football game” in her four years at UGA and said her closet “has a disproportionate amount of red and black clothing.” And, she said, she understands what the athletics program does for UGA and “why these athletes are given special treatment; they hold a vital position in our university, one that is not easy to fill. They represent years of tradition and are often the face of our school. The special treatment is often justified and necessary to allow these players to fulfill both their academic and athletic duties.”
But, Keiger said, “I simply cannot understand why — after being given privilege after privilege after privilege — these athletes still continue to break rules and get themselves in trouble. Behavior like Mettenberger’s is unforgiveable … [and] shows a terrible ungratefulness of the benefits that have been bestowed upon athletes, and makes me almost want to burn the red and black in my closet.” She asked the athletes to “stop bringing shame to the Bulldog Nation.”
White responded with a letter to the editor in which he said that while he does not condone athletes breaking the rules, “I do not believe that a student athlete should be held to any higher standard than a normal student when being reprimanded for their actions.”
Athletes, he said, “are definitely in the spotlight and must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We have more stipulations put on our actions than non-athlete students and often have heavier loads as well. I agree that being a student athlete is a privilege. … I am more than grateful for the resources provided to me and my teammates. But the fact remains Zach Mettenberger is only a freshman. He should have used better judgment, but he would not be the first university student to get in trouble. He had a clean slate throughout high school and the rest of his freshman year of college.”
White’s main point: “If the staff of the Red & Black or any other student organization were watched as closely as our student athletes are then perhaps they would have more arrests and incidents too. So my advice to all UGA fans is to put this into perspective — UGA student athletes do not show a ‘terrible ungratefulness of the benefits that have been bestowed upon’ them. One mistake should not destroy Mettenberger or the rest of the student athletes’ characters.”
Keiger, White said, was “out of line” in her comments. He added a zinger that “A true fan would never think to ‘burn the red and black in her closet’ as she suggested in her column.”
White’s contention that athletes should be viewed like any other students drew a rebuke from R&B sportswriter Zach Dillard, who asked, “Come on, No. 81, are you really going to play that card?”
Said Dillard: “While Georgia fans should be proud to have such players as yourself who are making the most out of their college experience, other students are not going to feel sorry for a program who can not stay out of trouble — regardless of whether players are in a highly-scrutinized situation or not.”
On White’s point about athletes being viewed in the same light as other students, Dillard brought out the big hammer: “Feel free to keep petitioning on how the football program should be looked upon no differently than ‘any other student organization’ — then try to explain why football players’ average SAT scores were allowed to be 334 points lower than the average male student when your class was admitted back in 2007. So by all means, Mr. White, keep making insubstantial excuses as to why four Georgia players have been arrested in the past two months, and how the subsequent media attention is unjustified.”
Valid points on both sides. As Mark Richt noted when I chatted with him recently about his program’s spring troubles, athletes do receive public scrutiny that other students don’t and some are more comfortable with that than others. But it’s hard to argue with the point that since athletes are admitted to UGA under a different standard from regular students and are the public face of the university, they should be held more accountable.
What do you think? Should the members of the football team be viewed in the same light as any other group of students at UGA when it comes to getting drunk and arrested? Or is that higher standard a legitimate part of the deal when they get that scholarship? Was White unwise making a public defense of Mettenberger?
And, finally, would any true Dogs fan really consider burning their red and black clothing?