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As a beat reporter, what is your take on whether the toxic culture that seems to have pervaded Baylor and, now we learn, Michigan State, in regards to sexual violence by athletes could ever take root at UGA. Do you think we have the pieces in place institutionally to keep that from happening?
― Bill Lloyd
Bill, that’s a question I’m sure that many ask when they see these stories come up, even knowing it’s a squeamish subject that few want to tackle. And I know it’s not the most auspicious question to begin this feature, but it’s an important one that all collegiate leaders, regardless of whether they say so, are asking themselves. When it comes to Georgia, I’m going to begin and end my answer with the same three words: You never know.
I spoke Monday morning with a Michigan State graduate who didn’t see any red flags at the time. Few people there had heard of Larry Nassar before The Indianapolis Star’s exposé in 2016. And now this scandal has forced the school president and athletic director to step down, and we’ll see what happens with longtime coaches Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo.
The specter of Penn State, Baylor and Michigan State now hangs over really every school in the NCAA. Hopefully every school is looking inward — not in the sense of trying to find the next Larry Nassar or Jerry Sandusky — but in making sure it has the checks and balances and the safeguards to prevent this from happening at their school.
There will be bad people in the world. Schools do their best not to hire them or sign them to a letter of intent. But if something bad happens, schools will be judged on what happens next. People at Michigan State, Baylor and Penn State did not lose their jobs (or worse) because someone under them committed crimes. It was because they didn’t handle the fallout correctly.
Specific to Georgia, all I can tell you is that I personally have never heard any inkling of something like this that would be alarming. Of all the things that I have personally found fault with at UGA and its athletic department, none of those have had to do with integrity on social and legal matters. This is the school with the harshest drug policy. This is the school that introduced the sexual violence provision to SEC rules a few years ago. This is the school, and the coach, that immediately released recruit D’Antne Demery after his arrest early last year.
I’m willing to say that in my time on the beat, looking into various rumors and such, there have been no hints of anything along the lines of Michigan State, Baylor, etc. There have been no hints of a culture problem at UGA. But out of the abundance of caution, you also have to point out that people around Michigan State are now wondering what they missed. Did “everyone” at Penn State and Baylor know what was going on?
Those cases illustrate why there must be checks and balances. There must be independence between the school and the legal system, including the police and prosecutors. There must be a thriving local press. Power should not rest wholly in one person or office, whether it be the president, athletic director or football coach. Or any coach. Everyone must be accountable to someone.
It can be a tough balance between integrity and competitiveness. There’s the temptation to look past certain red flags in recruiting, give certain players a pass while they’re on campus, etc. And there are some young people who deserve second chances, or even third chances.
But there are also reasons to err on the side of being harsh. When a player, be it a recruit or current player, is accused of domestic violence, for instance, it’s perfectly understandable for UGA to immediately release him rather than wait for the case to go through the court system. I understand the argument for due process, but that’s most necessary in the legal system. A player doesn’t have to go to UGA. It is one of many football programs in the United States of America.
Georgia has been a school that has done the right thing, as far as we know. So Bill, to answer your specific question — does UGA have the pieces in place institutionally to keep this from happening — my answer leans heavily toward yes.
But you never know.