What's really important in the way Mark Richt disciplines his players? (Hint: It's not the personal embarrassment of UGA alums.)
The other shoe has dropped, sort of: Backup running back Dontavius Jackson, hit with a DUI and five other charges in a traffic stop in Athens last week, will be transferring to another school following the end of summer semester. Jackson already had been suspended for the first half of the 2010 season; it's not clear what kind of discussion he might have had with Mark Richt before coming to this decision.
Other than the fact that Jackson was driving drunk in the first place, of course, it's hard to fault how the whole case was handled. Player gets a DUI, player gets suspended almost immediately, and rather than sticking around in Athens -- where he'll likely be in the doghouse for some time, and where his name will continue to be attached to some level of controversy -- he receives the coaching staff's blessing to try and get a fresh start elsewhere. Again, it's a shame this happened to begin with, but the team has made it clear that such carelessness won't be tolerated, and a stiff punishment was handed down; beyond that, there's no reason to end Jackson's life or career over it.
But that may not be good enough for some people. I hesitate to give this writer any more attention than he's already gotten in the Georgia blogosphere, but his brand of hyperventilating sanctimony can always be counted to make an appearance whenever a Georgia player runs afoul of the law:
Richt has got to do something, or he needs to be shown the door. The University cannot continually endure summer after summer of this juvenile and immature behavior from its most high-profile athletes.
A start would be bringing in more high-character players. Could you imagine these shenanigans happening during the reign of David Greene or David Pollack? They would not have allowed it.
For this to stop, the team has to buy into the system, whether from the coaching staff or their teammates. Who do these players answer to in the confines of the locker room? That is the question that must be answered.
There are numerous fallacies and knee-jerk assumptions to unpack here: The idea that the Dawgs were as pure as the driven snow during the Greene/Pollack days (they weren't), the idea that we've had "summer after summer" of legal troubles (the Dawgs were virtually arrest-free in the summers of 2008 and '09), the idea that "high-character players" haven't been a priority of the recruiting staff to begin with. But the last question -- "Who do these players answer to in the confines of the locker room?" -- is perhaps the one that deserves attention.
In the confines of the locker room, of course, the players answer to Richt. Jackson's DUI arrest, however, didn't happen "in the confines of the locker room." It happened on an Athens street, early in the morning on a Saturday, when Richt couldn't be expected to monitor Jackson's every move any more than he could be expected to monitor Damon Evans' every move a week earlier. Richt can lay down team rules and stick to tough consequences for breaking them -- which he has -- but ultimately, these guys are still legally independent adults with lives outside the team, and should they use their free will to break those rules just the same, it doesn't make Richt a failure as a coach any more than any other teenage kid getting a DUI would automatically render his mother and father failures as parents.
Before the columnist above even got around to that little rant, though, he gave a hint of what this kind of self-righteousness is all about -- what it's usually all about in situations like this:
This is an embarrassment and drastic changes have to be made. These athletes bring shame and disgrace to the entire University community with each additional act of stupidity they commit.
It's telling that these two sentences appeared near the top of the column, before any of the obligatory concerns about laws or rules or what have you. This is the same kind of self-obsessed thinking that causes Mark Bradley to make silly rhetorical reaches such as the assumption that the diplomas of Georgia fans far and wide have been tarnished by Damon Evans' arrest and resignation. The fainting-couch crowd can slap on a veneer of concern for the law or team rules or whatever they like, but in the end, it always comes back to how they've been personally embarrassed by a given player's actions.
Am I embarrassed by Dontavius Jackson's stupid carelessness? Sure. Am I so embarrassed and hurt over it that I want to end his career -- and Richt's while I'm at it? Of course not. Jackson made a horrendously thoughtless decision to drive while impaired, but there's no evidence that he's an irredeemable sociopath (recall that he turned out to be the "peacemaker" in the bizarre taxicab-assault case in downtown Athens this past spring). Nor is there any evidence that Mark Richt has gone rogue, thrown all character considerations out the window and allowed his program to devolve into a lawless mess where players can flout the rules with impunity.
Despite Richt's best efforts, some players are going to screw up -- just like some regular-Joe (or -Josephine) Georgia students are going to screw up despite the best efforts of their parents. When that happens, the best we can do is trust the coaches and administrators to punish the players in a manner commensurate with the offense committed. In this case, that's what appears to have happened. Maybe there's a case to be made that they should do more -- but if there is, the idea of "tarnished diplomas" and the personal shame of unrelated Georgia graduates couldn't be any less relevant to the situation.