Bulldogs couldn’t quite reach the mountaintop. Now they have for two years in a row. So the bar is set high, and anything short of a trifecta will be disappointing in Dawg Nation.
The impetus of this now-spoiled-with-treasure fan base should shift, at least for now, to the terrible trend its stars are practicing behind the wheel.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who famously does not rest on the laurels of success and spits hot coals when his team underperforms, faced questions about a recent string of driving violations on his team. Smart is also famously coy and short with the media, saving his energies for grooming his army of footballers.
I recently wrote in-depth about Jalen Carter’s adjacency to the tragic double-fatal crash in Athens on the night of the team’s championship parade. Carter paid very little for his bad behavior.
Since that horrible night, no fewer than four Georgia football players have been arrested for infractions behind the wheel, the AJC’s Chip Towers reports. The lessons in the UGA football program have not yet been learned.
The pressures on a top flight college program from its fan base are primarily about winning. For four decades, the University of Georgia Towers also reports that the UGA Athletic Association’s handbook has spelled out punishments for driving under the influence, but nothing specific about traffic violations.
As the fatal January crash reminded people, dangerous driving is just as lethal as DUI. UGA should treat it the same way.
Smart acknowledged that the recently arrested players and their families are embarrassed. And he said that people of that age simply have to learn their lessons.
This all is true, but if Smart and UGA want to send a resounding message, they will take away the thing that matters the most to these young men: football.
Carter’s infractions in January came when he was in-between jobs, per se. UGA could not suspend a player who was leaving the program, and he was not yet employed by an NFL team. His legal troubles ended up costing him nothing in the first round of the NFL draft.
But the Dawgs have a chance to truly teach lessons to the four players apprehended since then. The season hasn’t started. The players are still on the team.
Smart said that they are handling the discipline internally. That can mean anything, and whatever measures those may be could prove effective.
If Smart really wants to curb this reckless driving, something that is rampant amongst younger adult drivers, inspirational speakers, being chewed out, or extra wind sprints may not do the full trick. These errant drivers need to lose playing time.
NASCAR, where risky driving is the business model, has now twice had to throw the book recently at drivers who have crossed the line of retaliation on the track. The sport suspended Bubba Wallace last fall for intentionally hooking and crashing Kyle Larson. They fined and took points away from driver Denny Hamlin in March for admitting he wrecked Ross Chastain on purpose on the last lap of a race. And just this week they suspended their most popular driver, Dawsonville’s Chase Elliott, for hooking and wrecking Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600.
In two of these three instances, NASCAR took away what is most valuable to a driver: racing. They can take away all the money and championship points they want, but no driver wants to see their car circling the track with someone else at the helm. Wallace’s suspension wasn’t at the top of Elliott’s mind when he made his decision in Monday’s race. However, maybe both suspensions will help stop the next blatant retaliation.
UGA has precedence in this department: Soon before his new contract began, AD Damon Evans got arrested for a DUI in Buckhead with his mistress as a passenger. He lost his job.
I got the majority of my speeding tickets when I was college-aged. Smart acknowledged his concern with men in this age bracket and their decision-making. Recent stats indicated that males aged 21 to 25 are the mostly likely demographic to get in a crash in the U.S. The human brain simply doesn’t assess risk below the age of 25 as it does at later ages.
College boosters have plenty of say in the direction of football programs. UGA donors and UGA brass need to focus more on making sure the drivers within the Dawgs football program stay between the ditches and nearer the speed limit. This means stomaching the idea of a star player standing on the sideline, regardless of how that affects the total in the win column.
This team’s roster is deep and the football program will win even bigger in the long run if it can turn the tide on its culture of bad driving. The time has arrived to send that message before the next arrest — or worse.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.