AJC article about UGA athletes and their troubles with the law

 

Defensive End Michael Lemon was dismissed from the Bulldogs last week after being charged with felony battery by the ACC Police.

Defensive End Michael Lemon was dismissed from the Bulldogs last week after being charged with felony battery by the ACC Police.

 

Athens — After Michael Lemon’s dismissal from Georgia’s football team on Sunday, the Bulldogs can only hope that their trouble-filled offseason has finally bottomed out.

Lemon, a sophomore defensive end from Lizella, was kicked off the team by coach Mark Richt 11 days after being charged with the felony crime of aggravated battery.

Lemon was the seventh Georgia football player to be arrested in the first seven months of this year. As senior fullback Brannan Southerland said recently, “the season can’t get here fast enough.”

Nevertheless, leaders of the two police departments in Athens say they don’t believe there is a behavior problem with the Georgia football team.  “From my perspective, Mark Richt does a very good job with discipline and so does [men’s basketball coach] Dennis Felton,”  UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said. “They have very structured programs and they talk to their players regularly about the consequences of their actions. They’ve been great whenever I’ve had to call to them about a situation.

“The bottom line is 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds don’t always make the best decisions. The only difference in an athlete and a regular student is a regular student doesn’t get his name in the paper when he messes up.”

Statistics paint an incomplete picture.

There are 85 scholarship players on Georgia’s football team. The seven players arrested constitute 8.2 percent of the group.

According to UGA police records, its officers made 485 arrests of students for criminal offenses in 2007, or 1.4 percent of the total enrollment. That does not include 76 arrests made by detectives, which can’t be broken down between students and non-students. Nor does it include traffic offenses (DUIs are considered criminal offenses).

It also doesn’t include any students arrested by Athens-Clarke County police. Police department spokesperson Hilda Sorrow said “it would be logical to think” local police arrest far more students than UGA police because of all the restaurants and bars downtown that the students frequent.

“I don’t think it’s a problem with the athletic program or the football team,” said Athens-Clarke County Chief of Police Joseph Lumpkin.

“A few individuals made poor decisions and ended up in arrest situations. They’re essentially 18- to 22-year olds that live in a fish bowl as athletes. … We don’t like our young people to make poor decisions whether they’re athletes, students or non-students. But that period of life is an adventuresome one and sometimes it just gets out of hand. Hopefully they’ll learn from it.”

Jarrod Chin, a senior manager at the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University, concurs.

“Athletes are under a much more intense microscope than the average student or college coed on campus,” said Chin, who directs the center’s programs for violence prevention and diversity. “You hear much more about a football player getting into a fight than you are a biology major even though they both get into trouble for the same thing. Because we hear about football players in the news, we make assumptions about it. But statistically, there’s no difference in a student-athlete or a football player or a basketball player and a normal student. It’s just a reflection of society.”

Football players getting arrested certainly commands a lot of attention in the media. In one day last week, seven of the nine headlines listed under the heading “College Football News” on ESPN.com were about football players either getting arrested, sentenced or suspended for bad behavior.

Georgia’s seven arrests are the most in the SEC this year. But there are plenty of other programs getting bad pub.

The Web site http://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com attempts to keep tabs on the totals. It has created the “Fulmer Cup” (named after Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer), which utilizes a points system to keep track of all the player arrests that occur in major football programs across the country each year. The more serious the crime the more points awarded.

Alabama, which has had players arrested for robbery and selling cocaine in the past year, leads with 28 points. Georgia is seventh with 13. Arkansas (8th) and Tennessee (10th) are also represented in the “Top 10.”

Chin said it is important to point out that the majority of college athletes stay out of trouble. That’s why negative publicity over arrests can be so frustrating to those that do.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Southerland said. “I feel for the guys that get into trouble. First off I wish they would have avoided the situations. But it’s like anything, there are consequences for your actions. There are the legal ramifications with the courts and with the university and there are team issues. They have a lot to deal with when they get in trouble here.”

Indeed, Georgia has one of the most comprehensive conduct codes around for its athletes. A 91-page handbook outlines the rules and provides disciplinary guidelines for coaches and administrators.

And Southerland said they get no shortage of reminders throughout the year. Every player must attend a mandatory drug and alcohol awareness seminar the first week of preseason camp. During the season they meet weekly with volunteer coach Bobby Lankford, who coordinates what is called the “character-education program.” Speakers, ranging from former players to police officers and judges, talk to the team periodically about the pitfalls of disobeying the law.

“It’s not like we don’t hear about it,” Southerland said.

Richt declined to speak to the AJC for this article, but he told columnist Terence Moore last week, “I just wish everybody could see how often we do have those conversations. How often we do sit down with these guys as a group, as individuals, as positions coaches in meetings, and it’s a constant message.

“The bottom line is, they’re going to pay a price for what they did, and then we move forward.”

Both Lumpkin and Williamson said they are regularly asked by Richt to speak to the football team. Lumpkin said when he does his message is a simple one.

“I tell them they shouldn’t do anything they wouldn’t want to see written about on the front page of the AJC,” Lumpkin said. “Better yet, if they didn’t want their mama reading about it in the AJC they shouldn’t do it. If you did that you wouldn’t have much to worry about.”

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