ATHENS — At the end of the day, Adam Sasser left Georgia with no choice. There was no putting back what came out of his mouth. There was no disciplinary quick-fix. What was done, was done.
Sasser said what he said out in public at a Georgia football game and it was awful. That he was a UGA student on athletic grant-in-aid made it worse. He was called out on it and he admitted to it under investigation.
There will be some who will say Sasser’s constitutional rights for free speech were violated, and there are courts that might agree. But putting on a uniform and competing in school colors changes things. There’s a decorum that comes with that, a standard. You’re representing a whole university, not just one American citizen gifted with unalienable rights.
So Georgia had no choice. For the good of the university, for the safety of campus and for the harmony of the athletics department, it had to part ways with Sasser.
Even Sasser admitted as much. The Bulldogs’ star first baseman issued a statement via Twitter Wednesday evening. To his credit, he completely owned up to his mistakes.
“First and foremost, I want to apologize for my actions at the football game on Saturday,” he said in a statement. “I totally understand why my actions were offensive and I am deeply sorry for any pain or distress this has caused anyone. Secondly, I would like to apologize to the University of Georgia, my teammates and my coaches for the past three years and say that I am extremely sorry I have put you all in this position and wish nothing but the best for everyone.”
Sasser also said on Twitter that he talked with Justin Fields Tuesday night. According to witness accounts, it was at Fields that the racial slurs were directed.
“We are on good terms,” Sasser said of he and Fields.
So Sasser said and did what he should have. And so did Georgia. To have kept Sasser on the team could’ve been a potentially explosive mistake.
As it is, Georgia can only hope the damage control will prevent further fracturing of the pristine campus. According to the complainant in this whole ordeal, cracks were already there.
Africa Buggs, who brought Saturday’s encounter to the attention of school and athletic officials on Monday, says racism still exists on campus. In fact, she said an acquaintance experienced it on the way to the Tennessee game Saturday.
“She was walking by the Miller Learning Center on game day and a group of boys started shouting racial slurs to her,” Buggs said in a telephone interview. “She didn’t even go to the game. She turned around and went back home. So this happens a lot.”
That’s hard to believe in the 18th year of the 21st century — or 57 years after Charlayne Hunter-Gault became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Georgia — but that appears to be the case. African-Americans continue to be a decided minority on campus. They represented only 8 percent of the total enrollment as of last spring.
Racism often is endured in subtle ways, but when it is experienced in shouts in a public place, as Buggs and others encountered this past Saturday, Buggs said she and her friends simply couldn’t let it slide.
Buggs said there were 8 minutes remaining in the game and the student section had emptied considerably. Before that, she and her friends hadn’t noticed Sasser and his buddies. But now, with nobody between them and her and her friends sitting two rows below, Buggs could hear them.
Sitting farthest to the right, Buggs didn’t notice at first. “When I’m at the games, I’m always really into the game,” she said. “Then, Sierra [Buckner] leaned over to me and said, ‘did he just say what I think he said?'”
Before Buckner could tell her what she’d heard, Sasser yelled it again, then again. “Put the [blank] in the game’; put the [blank] in the game.”
Buggs and her friends ended up confronting Sasser and a policeman was summoned to intervene. Ultimately, it was resolved peacefully. Buggs and most of her friends left before the game was over.
But Buggs vowed that it wouldn’t end there.
“I had no idea who he was,” said of Sasser’s status as a star baseball player. “I assumed he was an athlete by his demeanor. … But I would’ve gone forward either way, to be honest. If something like this happens on campus and I hear about it, I’m going to bring attention to it. Something needed to be done.”
So now the case in the hands of UGA’s Equal Opportunity Office (EOO). It’s being considered under the heading of anti-harassment and an anti-discrimination. Sasser’s dismissal from the baseball team doesn’t end that. At the moment, he remains a UGA student.
At the least, Buggs said it is a violation of student conduct code for “unreasonably interfering with or limiting one’s ability to participate in or benefit from an institutional program or activity.”
“That was something I highlighted in the email I originally sent out to the athletic director and the baseball coach,” Buggs said. “Because my friends left early and the girls that were in front of us left even earlier. We usually stay to the end of it but, at that point, I didn’t feel comfortable around him.”
There are reparations to be made inside Georgia’s athletic department as well. Support personnel for both programs has been on alert the last few days for signs of any backlash between the football and baseball teams.
But that’s where UGA deserves credit for doing what needed to be done. By dismissing Sasser from the baseball team, they have diffused a potentially explosive situation.
Georgia did the right thing. The hope is that UGA’s student body will take a cue and start doing the right thing as well.