Well, you can't say Mark Richt didn't discipline Isaiah Crowell harshly enough. We can quibble over how many games a player should be suspended for whichever offense, and what message it sends -- is one game enough? would three or four really send a message? -- but we all know what message a dismissal sends. It basically says, "Sorry, son, but we no longer think you're fit to wear this team's uniform," and that's a pretty damning judgment. Against a player who was a bona fide superstar before he even walked onto Georgia's campus, one who was supposed to be a critical element in the Bulldogs' ongoing resurgence, it was even more so.
Yet it obviously wasn't enough to snap Isaiah Crowell into line before he got nabbed driving down East Campus Road smelling like pot with a nine-millimeter handgun under his seat. And now Mark Richt, along with everyone else whose loyalties lie with the Georgia football program, is trying to figure out why not.
At this point, Richt and athletic director Greg McGarity have to be asking themselves, "What more do we have to do?" Georgia's protocols for disciplining drug-related offenses are already among the strictest in the SEC; UGA is one of only two schools that will suspend a player for his first marijuana offense, and one of only four that will boot him from the program after his third. Two years ago, Richt kicked Zach Mettenberger off the roster after the quarterback was arrested on a sexual battery charge; a year later, Richt had no qualms about cutting ties with running back Washaun Ealey after repeated suspensions, despite the fact Ealey had been the team's leading rusher the previous year. It should've gotten through to the team by now that star status doesn't insulate anyone from punishment.
The punishments were in place, the precedents were set, and yet Isaiah Crowell still stands accused of a pair of felonies. Somehow a disconnect has grown between Mark Richt and certain players on his roster. Every time something like this happens, the joke is that "Mark Richt has lost control of this program," to the point where it's become its own meme on sports blogs and Twitter. But at this point, maybe it's not Richt who's lost control of the program -- maybe we have.
Remember when Isaiah Crowell first declared his commitment to UGA on National Signing Day 2011? Of course you do -- it was nationally televised on ESPN, live from Columbus, Georgia, with Crowell hoisting a (borrowed) English bulldog puppy on the dais to announce his choice. That spectacle followed months of praise for Crowell's physical talents (he was a consensus five-star prospect), speculation over where he'd go (Nick Saban's Alabama recruiting machine was the other program competing for his loyalty), and breathless commentary over what it'd mean if he chose Georgia (more than one analyst said he was the guy who'd save Richt's then precarious job). Basically, Crowell was not just a superstar but a potential savior before he'd recorded a single carry in a Georgia uniform -- before he'd even registered as a Georgia student.
Think about all that and what you were like as an 18-year-old, and ask yourself: How does a teenage kid keep all that from going to his head? Sure, some 18-year-old phenoms have been able to withstand that kind of adulation and resist the temptation to think they're untouchable. Peyton Manning certainly did when he went to Tennessee. By all reports, Herschel Walker, the greatest player in Georgia history, managed to stay out of trouble despite being anointed as a superman before he even picked a college. Yet for every uber-recruit who stays grounded and humble in the face of fawning fans, sportswriters and recruiting gurus, there's at least one, probably two or three, who give into temptation and fancy themselves invincible -- impervious to the law, their coaches and everyone else.
None of this is meant to condemn Crowell as evil, but he wasn't dumb, either. He knew what the penalties for failed drug tests were, having incurred one already. He also had to know the cops wouldn't look too kindly at an unlicensed firearm being found in his car. But the worry over the potential consequences never outweighed his desire to keep on doing whatever he was doing. It's hard to see consequences as real when you're living an unreal life.
The immaturity was Crowell's alone, but that unreal life is one we all helped construct for him. Maybe the next time around we'll make an effort to keep from doing that. The job of mentoring young athletes and shepherding them through four tumultuous years as budding superstars can't be an easy one, and at this point it's hard to suggest, Internet memes and breathlessly moralizing newspaper columns notwithstanding, that there's anything more Mark Richt could (or should) be doing. Perhaps we could make his job a little easier simply by doing our part to ensure that Georgia's players are still just guys, not demigods, when they're entrusted to his care.
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