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Can Damon Evans Continue as the Athletic Director of the University of Georgia?

The man who fears no truth has nothing to fear from lies.

Thomas Jefferson

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not at all, and certainly not now. It’s the first day of Damon Evans’s new five-year contract. I’m beginning my vacation tomorrow, and David Hale is getting married on Saturday. But it happened. It happened at a rotten time---right after Georgia’s worst finish in the Directors’ Cup standings since 1997, and on the day that fell exactly two and a half years after the Sugar Bowl victory that marked arguably the last unqualifiedly positive moment in Bulldogs sports history---but there couldn’t have been a good time.

I wasn’t supposed to write about it. I didn’t want to deal with it. Earlier today, I talked to MaconDawg, to whom I happily deferred so that he could write about it. After that, I talked to Kevin Thomas on the radio, then I talked to my wife after I drove home safely and lawfully just to prove to my fellow University of Georgia graduates that it can be done.

I wasn’t at the press conference, but Damon Evans’s wife was, and so was David Hale, who provided us with the details of the athletic director’s prepared statement and his responses to questions.

Evans said he was "very ashamed and embarrassed." He said he "let so many people down." He said his behavior was "not indicative of what we teach our student athletes at the University of Georgia." He said he "failed miserably" in his efforts to represent the University. He said he wanted to "learn from [his] mistakes" and treat them "as opportunities in disguise."

He admitted that he had "some shortcomings." He expressed his commitment to doing "what’s in the best interest of this institution." He acknowledged that his "actions have put a black cloud over our storied program" and that he’s "got a lot of soul searching, a lot of thinking to do." He said he had "to get back on track" and "to set an example." He promised to "do everything in [his] power to make [us] believe in [him] once again."

He mentioned his children by name and said he had "brought shame to them." He referred to his "beautiful wife" and said he was "haunt[ed]" and "trouble[d]" by the "hurt" he had caused. He "sincerely apologize[d] for [his] actions." He asked us to "find it in [our] hearts to forgive [him]." He admitted to being "an individual who made a grave, grave mistake."

He said Michael Adams was "supportive" but was "going to let things play out" and was going "to do what is in the best interest of this institution." He recognized that, if he brought "too much shame or embarrassment to this institution," there was "no telling what will happen." He said he was "not going to get into" his job status. When asked about his relationship to the passenger in his vehicle, his entire answer was: "Just a friend." He said he "did not" offer to resign. When asked whether the woman who was with him at the time of his arrest had any affiliation with University of Georgia athletics, his entire answer was: "No. No."

He said, "I’ve made my bed, and now I have to [lie] in it." When asked if he recalled specifically what happened last night, his entire answer was: "It’s an ongoing case, and I’ve been advised not to comment specifically about that case." When asked the same question in a different way, his entire answer was: "Again, I don’t want to get into that right now while this case is still under investigation." When asked what punishment he expected to face, he said, "I don’t know what’s coming my way."

My pattern-seeking brain keeps trying to put this into a context. A part of me wants to believe that South Carolina won a national championship and thereby gave us the chicken curse, which we should exorcise by sacrificing a goat at the Arch. A part of me clings to the knowledge that some DUI charges turn out to be false. A part of me recognizes that Wally Butts was guilty of some indiscretions as athletic director before going on to lead an exemplary life thereafter.

A part of me hears the name "Damon Evans" and is reminded of skillful marketing, national scheduling, financial solvency, a notable lack of NCAA investigators snooping around Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, the hiring of Mark Fox, and the decisions to ease Willie Martinez and Brady Wiederhold out of the positions they held as subordinates to immediate supervisors who also were personal friends. Another part of me hears the same name and is reminded of the mug shot that will forever remain a part of the public record and the reported refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, which, if true, will never cease to fan the flames of public suspicion regarding his conduct.

Even though my legal practice does not involve working in the criminal law arena, I understand that Evans had to walk a fine line at his press conference, preserving his entitlement to the presumption of innocence while apologizing for putting himself in a position to create a public relations fiasco. He chose his words carefully because he knew the prosecutors who will decide how to handle his case were watching, but Evans’s need to fixate upon the niceties of the law undermined his ability to focus upon the nuances of leadership. I heard him apologize for causing pain and embarrassment to various people and institutions; I have no idea for what, specifically, he was apologizing. Is he sorry for how it looks or is he sorry for what he did? If the latter, what did he do? I know what I think he did, but I also know that he knows what he did. "I’m sorry I did you wrong, but I’m not going to tell you how" doesn’t fly with me as an apology. That sounds an awful lot like "I’m apologizing because I think you think it’s important to hear me say ‘I’m sorry’" to me.

Is this the first time this happened, or is it the first time he got caught? Who is this female "friend," and what was he doing in a car with her at midnight on a school night, miles away from his home? Where was he coming from, and where was he---where were they---going? I keep wondering why he didn’t call a cab. I keep wondering why he didn’t call a friend. Hell, if he’d called me, I’d have gone and gotten him, and you probably would have, too. I keep trying to come up with some explanation for why he didn’t call a cab or a colleague to come get him. I keep coming up with unsatisfactory explanations. I hope my impressions and assumptions are mistaken. The only man who can correct my mistaken impressions and assumptions gave a press conference today at which he declined to address any matter more substantive than his perceived need to offer me an amorphous apology for misjudgments he would not define with particularity.

Perhaps it is necessary to his legal case to keep these details from us, but, if he is asking Bulldog Nation to forgive him, it is not unreasonable for us to ask: "For what, precisely?" I like and respect Damon Evans; I believe he has been a good athletic director, and, prior to 11:55 p.m. on Wednesday night, I believed his representation of our alma mater was beyond reproach; I want him to be able to continue to serve the University of Georgia in his present capacity, but I do not yet know whether he can, and there is rather a large gap between the presumption of innocence before the law and the obligation of Caesar’s wife to be beyond reproach as it concerns the reputation of an institution Damon Evans and I both love dearly.

I remain hopeful that adequate explanations will be forthcoming when the legal proceedings have run their course, but, in the meantime, I have not heard what I need to hear to convince me that Damon Evans will be able to continue to do his job. I am not yet persuaded that he cannot continue to serve as athletic director, and I certainly hope he will be able to do so; I want to be able to share the sentiment expressed by Verron Haynes, but I need Damon Evans to come clean. I need him to accept accountability for the criminal allegations against him, and I need to know what he was doing there in the first place. If it isn’t what it looks like, I need him to tell me what it is instead. If it is what it looks like, I need a more specific apology than the one I got today.

Yes, the rumor and innuendo---which, at this point, are nothing more than rumor and innuendo, although this will continue to be the case until an adequate explanation is offered---concerns a matter that chiefly is between our athletic director and his wife, but it isn’t just between our athletic director and his wife. It matters what kind of man is representing my university. No, I’m not perfect (although I’ve never committed, or come close to committing, either of the indiscretions many observers are inferring from last night’s events), but I’m also not the highly-paid athletic director of the University of Georgia, and I would expect a thorough investigation of my background, including my criminal history and my personal behavior, if I were being considered for such a post. I want to believe Damon Evans is a man worthy of my trust, and I am prepared to believe he is.

It’s just that, 24 hours ago, I was sure he was, and now I’m not. I need some straight answers and some honest contrition before I can be sure again. I got one of those today. I’m still waiting on the other.

Go ‘Dawgs.