A Georgia baseball player is under investigation by the UGA Equal Opportunity Office for allegedly yelling racial slurs while watching the Bulldogs’ football game against Tennessee at Sanford Stadium Saturday.
The alleged remarks, said to be in reference to quarterback Justin Fields, were overheard by a group of students sitting nearby, who confronted him about using racially insensitive language.
After the exchange was brought to the attention of UGA Athletics administrators on Monday, a full-blown investigation was launched. As of Tuesday evening, that investigation continued and is being considered as an anti-discrimination/anti-harassment case. A UGA spokesman confirmed that the investigation remains ongoing and referred to statements made by UGA Athletics Director Greg McGarity and Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin.
On Monday, UGA student Klarissa Gulebian, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she witnessed the incident following the racial remarks, took to social media with the complaint. Using a Facebook public group page called “Overheard at UGA” as a forum, Gulebian, a junior from Lawrenceville, told the AJC that her initial post had been deleted by page moderators so she posted it a second time and also shared it on Twitter. The second post remains on the page.
That initiated a firestorm of reaction from various individuals, mostly students, who in turn shared the post on other social media platforms. Eventually, it was brought to the attention of UGA athletic administrators, who immediately launched an investigation.
After interviewing the player, who Gulebian identified as Adam Sasser, Stricklin and other individuals allegedly involved, UGA Athletics turned over their findings to the EOO.
“While we are limited in what we can say about the incident at this time, I want to reemphasize that we do not condone discriminatory behavior,” McGarity said in a statement released upon request Monday. “The University’s Equal Opportunity Office thoroughly reviews all reported violations of our Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy to ensure an appropriate response.”
An internal memo was sent to UGA Athletic Association employees stating that administrators were “aware of an incident this weekend involving conduct by one of our student-athletes” but that they are “limited in what we can say.”
“I want to reemphasize that we do not condone discriminatory behavior,” the statement read.
Sasser, a senior and one of Georgia’s top hitters last season, could not be reached for comment.
Football coach Kirby Smart addressed the incident with the media on Tuesday evening.
Smart was asked after the Bulldogs’ practice whether he had addressed the alleged incident with his team.
“I really haven’t,” Smart said. Then he cast his eyes downward to the lectern, where he appeared to read from prepared statement.
“If what I read and heard is true, it’s really unacceptable behavior that’s not who we are at Georgia,” Smart said. “We’re trying to build a program on tolerance and mutual respect. You can’t control what other people say, but the expectation is that people that are part of our program and come to our games share the same beliefs that we do. It’s sad that something like this would happen. I’m disappointed. But it doesn’t affect our family, our unit here and our kids have been great. It’s not something I’ve had to address with them. I’ve addressed it with Justin. That’s the most important thing.”
Asked then how Fields reacted, Smart said, “Justin’s great.”
Gulebian told the AJC that she was also the person who summoned police to the scene.
Gulebian was attending the game with her friends, Africa Buggs of Wisconsin and Sierra Buckner of Lawrence. Buggs is the one who brought the incident to the attention of McGarity and Stricklin. All three women were interviewed by EOO investigators on Tuesday.
“It’s been a bit overwhelming,” Gulebian said of the whole experience. “There has been a lot of response. But most of it has been positive. People have been very supportive.”
Gulebian made it clear that she did not actually hear the remarks alleged to have been made by Sasser. She had walked up to the concourse to hear a phone call. She said she saw the confrontation unfold and rushed to intercede.
“I personally didn’t hear the words that he said,” Gulebian said. “When I reached them there were words being exchanged. My friends were telling him, ‘Hey, you can’t say that. That’s not OK.’ A little while later, they started saying again, ‘I still hear you saying that’ and started arguing again. That’s when I ended up involving a police officer.”
Gulebian said that officer, who was not a member of the UGA Police Department, took Sasser to the side and spoke to him for a short time. Sasser then returned to his seat and the police officer spent the remainder of the game standing in the aisle watching Sasser and his friends with his back to the game.
A UGA official said that officer has not yet been identified and no incident reports were filed. Multiple police agencies staff Georgia home football games, which are attended by more than 92,000 when at capacity.
Buggs did not immediately return a phone message. However, in a Twitter message she confirmed that Sasser was the offending party and that he was yelling, ‘Put the [N-word] in the game,’ throughout the fourth quarter.”
Gulebian said the EOO officer she spoke with said the investigation would “be resolved quickly.”
Gulebian was asked what her and her friends thought should happen to Sasser.
“Honestly, that’s kind of hard to say,” said Gulebian, a junior majoring in animal science. “I don’t know how far his consequence should go. But I do think something should happen. People will think it’s OK if it doesn’t, and it’s not OK. Plus, he’s a student-athlete. He’s a public figure, people know who he is and he represents our school. He should know better. So I don’t know what should happen but I think something should happen.”
Sasser was part of last season’s Georgia team that earned an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in five years. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder batted .317 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. He tied a school record with three home runs in one game against Missouri last season. He was named second-team All-SEC.
A graduate of Greenbrier High in Evans, Ga., Sasser was carrying .273 career average, 13 home runs and 60 RBI into this season.
“I expect every member of our team to behave at all times in a way that upholds the highest standards and values of the University of Georgia, and it is disappointing when that doesn’t happen,” Stricklin said in a statement released Monday. “While I cannot comment on this matter, we cooperate fully in any investigation involving an alleged violation of University policies.”