The team’s star running back pulled a shotgun out from his dorm room and fired it at the closed wooden door as two other athletes were shielding themselves behind it. The blast penetrated the door, just missing the head of one. The incident was never reported to the University of Florida or campus police.
Guns and athletes — not a new story. This particular incident, as told to me by a friend who was behind the door that night, happened more than 50 years ago. Still, it is an all-too-common theme of problems involving athletes these days on college campuses. Firearms among students was a matter of serious concern for college administrators and coaches even before the slaughter of 32 innocent people by a Virginia Tech student.
These are the dangerous times for athletes in more ways, a time when players are no longer tethered to coaches or under the watchful eye of mentors. Guidelines are in place, but in the off-season, temptations are rampant and one need only look on YouTube.com these days for evidence. There is Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford in several embarrassing poses, including the one of him holding a keg over his head. This comes on the heels of Mark Richt considering a semester of suspension for 18-year-old freshman linebacker Akeem Hebron for alcohol possession a second time.
These are also the times when head coaches hate to turn on their computers, because they’ll likely be reading about the antics of six Penn State players getting busted (four were ultimately released with no charges). Or perhaps South Carolina’s incoming freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia just getting back from suspension by Steve Spurrier for public drunkenness. Or maybe Florida’s Dustin Doe and/or Ronnie Wilson being arrested for fracases.
Or worse yet, one of their own.
One website, Every Day Should Be Saturday (EDSBS.com) even keeps a scorecard ranking on football teams with bad acting players and calls it “The Fulmer Cup.” Penn State was No. 1, but likely lost the honor when charges against the four were dropped. Ron Zook’s Illinois team was No. 2, Michigan No. 4, Florida No. 5 and LSU No. 7 at last look. Oddly, Tennessee didn’t make the Top Ten.
The EDSBS rating is based on a point system and is no doubt for entertainment purposes, but it’s not very funny for the respective coaches who lie awake nights worrying about tomorrow morning’s potential headline disasters.
Urban Meyer hasn’t escaped unscathed in what he calls the “dangerous third quarter.” Insiders say Meyer takes the misconduct of his players personally because he is a stickler for oversight of them by staff members and has no tolerance for foolishness. Meyer says openly that when he hires position coaches, they are supposed to be “babysitters” 24×7. The incidents this spring were very disturbing to him.
Wilson, a redshirt freshman guard, was charged with aggravated assault, simple battery and use or display of a concealed weapon — he fired off a semi-automatic weapon outside a nightclub after a dispute — during the commission of a felony. No word on his future, but don’t look for him to be on the active roster this fall.
Of course we must emphasize the “innocent until proven guilty” axiom, too.
Fortunately, Doe was exonerated of one of the charges, but a public fighting charge is still pending. If Doe stays clean over the summer, he’s going to be a major force as the replacement for Earl Everett at linebacker.
Some college athletes, at best, could be classified as overly frisky; others, just plain stupid and juvenile. Bad intentions mixed with alcohol or drugs can create a combustible situation.
There have been many accidental auditions for the movie “Jackass” by athletes from Florida and other schools in the state. One that comes to mind is the night two running backs from Florida, Bob Hoover and Dick Skelly, were caught inebriated at the Century Tower, hatchet in hand, plotting a scheme to open the pen of Albert The Alligator (the reptile, not the mascot) and chop off his tail.
Pranks may be stupid, but brandishing guns is intolerable behavior. This was the second gun incident for Meyer, who last year learned that several of his players — Andre Caldwell, Reggie Lewis and Kenneth Tookes — were at a party of former defensive back Dee Webb when a semi-automatic weapon went off in his apartment. Tookes apparently was holding the gun when it was unintentionally fired. Nobody was injured and the gun was registered, but an undisclosed punishment was meted out by Meyer and the incident made the papers.
College athletes acting badly are fair game for both the media and the cops. On some campuses, the collar of an athlete by campus police is almost like a trophy bust. And at most newspapers, bad boy athletes make the section front, whereas just plain students usually go in the police reported unless it’s a major felony.
Which raises the question: When athletes are involved in such incidents but not arrested or charged, is it really fair to print stories about them — especially on the section front? I’m a first amendment proponent, but wonder if the media and the cops don’t sometimes become outside forces that only serve to exacerbate situations.
Still, there is no excuse for bad decision-making and inane antics. It’s like this: When you drive through towns with speed traps, like Lawtey or Waldo, you can’t go over the speed limit. College athletes have to keep it between the white lines at all times.
There are four main requirements for Gator football players beyond good academic standing and on-field performance and the cardinal rules are spelled out right there in the Florida coach/player manual:
- Treat women with respect
- No drugs
- No stealing
There is also a “no guns” clause in the back of the manual and though it may not be in print, the admoninition of “watch your alcoholic intake” is strongly suggested. There is also a standing UF administrative rule against students owning illegal firearms.
Marcus Thomas has become the poster boy for bad judgment and failure to comply. Although the UF never really released this information, we know now that he failed at least two drug tests — presumably marijuana — and then failed to live up to the term of his probation once allowed returning to the team. By all accounts, Thomas wasn’t “a thug” or a bad person, but he made bad decisions that cost him millions of dollars by falling from a No. 1 draft pick to the No. 4 choice of the Denver Broncos.
Drugs, guns, booze, bad judgment and bad company don’t make for good Florida Gator teammates under Meyer—even if college athletes have may have been acting badly since the days of leather helmets.
Buddy Martin’s revised championship edition of “The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation” will be published this summer. To pre-order, email Buddy at firstname.lastname@example.org.