All right, I touched upon this earlier, but here’s the deal: iPods, iPhones, and suchlike were stolen from the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall locker room, three football recruits were identified as suspects, and Athens authorities booked that trio this morning. All three are students at Carver High in Columbus (although some confusion resulted from the fact that one of them has a twin brother with a similar name who also plays football), and Carver head coach Dell McGee has suspended each of them for at least five games. Are you with me so far?
I get why this is humorous, particularly in the context of the ongoing theater of the absurd that is played out every time Bulldog student-athletes interface with the police experience, but, once you get past the initial silliness inherent in any such escapades in Athens, these facts remain: all three of these young men were charged with misdemeanor theft by taking, and the incident places their football futures at least somewhat in peril. Obviously, none of them will ever play for the Georgia Bulldogs, and, while larger indiscretions than these sometimes have been overlooked by SEC programs when committed by sufficiently gifted athletes, their reputations (and, hence, their chances) unmistakably have been damaged. Coach McGee’s declaration that the threesome "will be suspended a minimum of five football games" carries ominous overtones.
These actions were foolish, the ramifications are frustrating, and the situation is sad. While it is doubtful that these young men have squandered altogether their opportunity to play Division I-A college football, they nevertheless have been moved over into the "character risk" column that could cost them scholarship offers; unless Mark Richt is anxious to try forging team unity among athletes who have been suspects and victims in the same criminal proceeding, they certainly have forfeited the opportunity to don the silver britches and play between the hedges.
What that may mean for Georgia, of course, is that, through no fault of the Bulldogs’, Deion Bonner may go on to be some rival school’s recruiting coup. It is a necessity that Georgia jettison these prospects; should that lead them to sign letters of intent to play for other SEC institutions, the Red and Black could be victimized twice by these events, in spite of the fact that no one who is now or ever will be in any way formally affiliated with the University of Georgia did anything even remotely wrong.
That is not to say that those of my colleagues who are enjoying the preposterousness of the unfolding story are wrong to see the humor in it; they are not, as there legitimately are laughs to be had here. There is a serious side to this, though, and, while I do not wish to overstate the case by suggesting that misdemeanor charges and five-game suspensions will or should derail these young men’s adult lives, I frankly find myself ticked off at the situation. Visitors to Athens are alleged to have committed a crime against Georgia players, yet the likely outcome is that the purported perpetrators still will receive scholarship offers commensurate with those they would have received anyway, rival institutions will snag players they otherwise might not have gotten, and the only folks meaningfully harmed in all this will be the ones in the Classic City, who were the only ones with clean hands in the entire affair.
Such is life in Bulldog Nation, where forthrightness and honesty cost us our best offensive player for one-third of a season while other schools’ stonewalling and obfuscation earned them conference championships and BCS bowl victories. Maybe I watched a few too many cowboy movies growing up, but I’m about ready for the good guys to win one for a change.