Kirby Smart, Georgia need to do right thing and sit Natrez Patrick

Georgia linebacker Natrez Patrick (6) defends against Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson in the SEC championship game two weeks ago.
Georgia linebacker Natrez Patrick (6) defends against Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson in the SEC championship game two weeks ago.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

That the nation has become desensitized to all matters involving marijuana use, rightly or wrongly, and that Georgia has a stricter anti-drug policy than most collegiate athletic departments should not be a part of this debate.

There are only two factors that need be considered here when it comes to whether Natrez Patrick plays another football game for Georgia this season:

1. The kid has a problem. Patrick, a junior inside linebacker, has been either arrested, tested positive or been present for six incidents involving marijuana use in less than three years at Georgia. He has done so despite a disciplinary action that included a four-game suspension this season and repeated warnings that persisting in drug use could lead to expulsion. There’s a saying about addicts: Even when they know what will happen when they take that first pill, drink or fix, they still do so. That’s the “insanity” of the illness.

2. If the Bulldogs look the other way and allow him to play in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, they effectively will be endorsing and enabling Patrick’s behavior -- past, present and moving forward. They will be saying, “This football game is more important than the kid’s well-being.”

Drop the “it’s only marijuana” narrative. It’s lazy. It’s dumb. It just plain inaccurate.

Any addict, alcoholic, counselor or person in the addiction/recovery field will verify marijuana can be addictive, even if not as addictive as, say, opiates. A Budweiser is not addictive to most. It is to an alcoholic or somebody with a parallel brain disease.

Only Patrick knows the level of his problem. But some things are undeniable.

Natrez Patrick is a junior inside linebacker at Georgia. He was part of Georgia's 2015 Signing Day class out of Atlanta's Mays High School. Patrick has made seven starts for the Bulldogs in nine games and ranks fifth on the team with 36 tackles. He's had some run-ins with the law. Patrick’s first arrest came two years ago as a freshman. Patrick’s second arrest came this season, leading to a four-game suspension. Once cleared, Patrick came off the bench for two games before regaining his starter role.

He has been arrested three times on marijuana charges.

He also was driving the car when former teammate Chauncey Rivers was arrested for marijuana (later dismissed).

He also was involved with Roquan Smith in that more-than-slightly-suspicious incident in October of 2016. A resident assistant smelled marijuana from a dorm room down the hall and notified campus police. According to the police report, after a knock on the door, "The individuals inside went silent and did not respond to me. I continued to knock for about another 60 seconds before someone inside the room responded by saying, 'One minute.'" Magically, when the door was finally opened, the suspicious scent lingered. No marijuana was found but there was a fake Arizona Ice Tea container used for stashing drugs. Ultimately, neither player was suspended

Patrick also failed a drug test two weeks ago (which was administered by Athens-Clarke County for a probation violation stemming from the arrest in Barrow County a few days earlier. The charges in Barrow were dismissed and Patrick passed a drug test by UGA that night.)

There are only two possibilities here: Either the first clean test was a case of “Bulldog justice.” Or Patrick really was (somewhat) innocent the first time and the subsequent positive test in Athens a few days later was the result of his decision to get high. Again.

Either way, these are not the actions of a stable individual.

Cumulative summary of the above: Patrick likes to get high and he hangs around people who like to get high. The two usually go together.

Billy Healan, Patrick’s defense attorney doesn’t deny there was positive test in Athens, which stemmed from a probation violation. But he believes it should be outside the parameters of Georgia’s drug policy and therefore shouldn’t count as a third official violation and possible explusion.

But Healan is a defense attorney. He’s not paid to have a conscience or an ounce of moral fiber.

Once Patrick is gone from Georgia, coach Kirby Smart will still be here. How he and school administrators act now will say a lot about their sensitivity to this issue moving forward.

Smart referenced the arrests of Patrick and Jayson Stanley in his opening remarks Monday. He gave the standard line, “Disciplinary matters are handled internally.” He clarified that September revisions to Georgia’s substance abuse policy “had no impact whatsoever on this situation.”

He also said, “The Athens-Clark County situation, the situation with Natrez, is a separate matter and we’ll address it with our policy once it’s resolved.”

That would seem to give him wiggle room if he wants to play Patrick. Georgia’s playoff game is Jan. 1 and the national championship game is Jan. 8, while Patrick’s hearing for the probation violation isn’t until Jan. 11.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed Patrick's failed test in Barrow County does not fall under UGA's drug policy.

But the failed drug test is common knowledge. Is that how Georgia really wants to play this?

I asked Smart if he had a level of concern for Patrick, given his multiple arrests and incidents, and wouldn’t playing him constitute enabling?

“For us in general I can’t talk much about this subject because a lot of this is confidential,” he said. “You’ve got to respect his confidentiality. I have a lot of respect for Natrez as a person, a student, a student-athlete. He’s done a lot of good things along with his mistakes. For us, for me, I can’t sit here and outline and define everything that’s happened because of his confidentiality and the kid’s sake.”

If this is really about the kid’s sake, the decision is an easy one. Patrick doesn’t play.

Subscribe to the, "We Never Played The Game" on iTunes or listen from the new AJC sports podcasts page or the WSB Radio on-demand page.

About the Author

In Other News