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HUCKABY: Troubled athletes need to shape up or ship out

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

When is enough enough? I mean seriously. When?

I am a Georgia Bulldog. In the words of the late Herschel Scott of Monroe, I am “Bulldog born, Bulldog bred and when I die I’ll be Bulldog dead.” Now I realize that many people have recited that little ditty, but Herschel Scott — who is Bulldog dead — has it carved on his tombstone.

I was brought up Georgia, attended Georgia, graduated from Georgia twice and have sent my three most prized possessions — my children — off to be educated at Georgia. I am proud of the fine academic institution my Alma Mater has become and her athletic teams have very few, if any, more loyal supporters.

I have been a huge fan and supporter of coach Mark Richt and his staff since he became the head football coach a decade ago. I believe him to be a fine and decent person who has the best interest of his players at heart. I believe him to be a person who realizes that life does not begin with the toot of a whistle nor end with the blast of the final horn.

I have supported coach Richt and his program through thick and thin and the thick has been a hell of a lot more plentiful than the thin — those annual trips to Jacksonville notwithstanding. I have defended his program against a lot of guff from a lot of people whose opinions I don’t particularly respect or agree with. And I have deflected stones from a lot of directions — some thrown in jest and others that were mean-spirited and hurtful. And I have turned a deaf ear — or tried to — to many other barbs.

There was “Ring Gate,” for instance, when several University of Georgia scholar athletes put their prized SEC Championship rings up for sale to the highest bidder on E-bay. Or perhaps I should say their “not so prized” championship rings. I defended those players and pointed out that they probably came from humble beginnings and needed the funds more than they needed the jewelry — although the entire time I was making that rationalization I was aware that few, if any, of the players in question came from beginnings more humble than my own and there wouldn’t have been enough money in the world to entice me to sell such a treasure if I had been fortunate enough to have earned it.

I have lived through summer after summer filled with arrest after arrest. Drinking and driving. Just plain drinking. Just plain poor driving — with and without benefit of licensure. You name it, Georgia football players have done it — and I have made all sorts of excuses for them.

“Boys will be boys,” I have said. I have also said, “The Athens police just have it in for the football team — and all the athletes in fact,” usually adding, “They are just waiting for them to mess up.” Here’s another good one. “The players just stand out in Athens.”

I’ve also claimed that athletes get arrested for things other students just get warned about and, my personal favorite, “They would never arrest a football player in (Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Gainesville, Fla. — take your pick) for doing that. And, yes I have, I have said simply, “It goes on everywhere. It isn’t just here.” Because it does, of course — and it isn’t.

Year after year I’ve made my contribution and bought my tickets and traveled to Athens and Columbia and Jacksonville and even Shreveport and made sure to be in the stadium at whatever time television told me to be in my seat. And year after year I have sat through the first two or three games watching my team play shorthanded because this or that 20- or 21-year-old “star” believed the rules and laws applied only to others.

This year has been worse than usual. During spring break the person who very well might have been the starting quarterback was arrested and ultimately dismissed from the team for his despicable behavior in a bar outside Valdosta. The university that educates my children was named the No. 1 party school in the nation and the athletics director was arrested in Buckhead for driving under the influence of alcohol and ultimately dismissed for his indiscretions, at least in part because he was with a woman who wasn’t his wife at the time and had her panties in his lap.

And through it all I have remained stoic and supportive and made my rationalizations. And then Friday — just eight days before the season kicks off — I get breaking news that star running back Washaun Ealey had become the latest Georgia alumnus of the Athens-Clarke County jail. He was charged with hit and run and driving on a suspended license. The hit and run allegedly happened at 3:20 a.m. Friday morning. The suspended license was the result of Ealey’s skipping bail on a previous arrest — for speeding — and not appearing in court.

I am sick of athletes at Georgia and every other school believing that they are above the law. I am sick of them acting like thugs. And there is no reason for Washaun Ealey — or any other player — to be out at 3:20 on a Friday morning.

The buck stops with Mark Richt because he is paid to be in charge. If he can’t keep his players away from the heat, he needs to kick them out of the kitchen.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.