HOOVER, Ala. — Fair is fair. Right is right.
Georgia on Monday announced its disciplinary plans for defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter. Well, the Bulldogs didn’t get into specifics as far as whether he would be suspended or how many games it might be. School policy is pretty cut-and-dried in that regard, really.
But what was important was what coach Kirby Smart didn’t say about Ledbetter. He didn’t say the sophomore defensive end is going to be dismissed. UGA plans to stand by Ledbetter and provide him help and support for what appears to be a serious alcohol problem. And that’s the right thing to do.
“Certainly we are disappointed and recognize he has a serious problem,” Smart said in a statement released by UGA Monday morning. “We have provided help for him previously and we are committed to providing whatever assistance is necessary for Jonathan that will contribute to immediate improvement but also ensure that his long-term well-being is secure.”
Ledbetter was arrested for DUI after falling asleep at the wheel of his car at an intersection in East Athens sometime shortly before dawn on Sunday. Ledbetter also was arrested in March on charges of possessing a fake ID and underage drinking. Those charges were eventually dismissed even though Smart had already announced a one-game suspension for Ledbetter, a projected starter at defensive end.
According to the police report from Sunday, Ledbetter’s blood-alcohol level per a breathalyzer test was over .13. It said that cops had considerable trouble waking him up. When Ledbetter finally was awakened, he pleaded with police to spare him. “He does not need to get into any more trouble because he is going to get kicked off of the team and that he needs to provide for his mother and family,” the arresting officer reported.
The very definition of an addiction is somebody knowing that a certain behavior can cause them serious consequences and then doing it anyway. If not for some sort of serious intervention, the pattern can continue and worsen.
All of us have seen this pattern ruin more than a few great athletes’ careers. Recently right here in the SEC we witnessed how alleged substance abuse contributed to the demise of Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk and to South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia years ago.
And at Georgia, earlier this summer, the Bulldogs were trying to provide help for sophomore defensive lineman Chauncey Rivers. But, alas, they were unable to save him. While Rivers is now getting help elsewhere, his time and chances at Georgia ran out.
The third strike for Rivers came when he passed out at the wheel of his car in a handicapped parking space at an Atlanta convenience store. Sound familiar? He was busted for the third time for possessing marijuana in that arrest, but the real deal-breaker was a felony controlled substance charge. Upon arrival at the jail, police found a pill in Rivers’ pocket that later proved to be a type of Xanax, a form of anti-anxiety medicine often abused by young people.
I wrote after Ledbetter’s arrest on Sunday that the recent spate of arrests among the Bulldogs — seven in the last four months — showed a lack of respect by the players for coach Kirby Smart’s and UGA’s policies. A goodly number of readers called me out on that and blistered me with comments that I wasn’t taking into the consideration the ravages of addiction. A few folks went as far as saying that if I knew anybody who had dealt with substance abuse I’d know better than to characterize any of their behaviors as disrespectful.
Those people were right. And substance abuse has touched my life. Truth is, it has touched the lives of just about everybody you know and I know, distantly if not up close and personal. It’s a big problem in our country. Everywhere really.
By all accounts, Ledbetter is a good kid. I’m told he does virtually everything else right. Seth Emerson was telling me Ledbetter was one of the most engaged players with patients on UGA’s recent trip to Camp Sunshine. He’s a good player, too, which really shouldn’t enter into the equation but we’d be naive if we thought it didn’t.
He’ll miss some games this season, maybe even three or four. But hopefully Ledbetter will get the help he needs and get back on the track he was on, which was moving fast and pointed toward success.
A delay here is better much better than a detour.