Hayes: Georgia football has a serious off-the-field problem -- and Kirby Smart has to fix it
These things happen, and nothing makes sense. Until it does.
Until the truth is uncovered, and the unthinkable is revealed and the last thing anyone wants to believe is staring us in the face.
The Georgia football program has a problem, and the only person who can fix it is coach Kirby Smart.
The Athens-Clark County Police Department announced Wednesday morning that they have warrants for the arrest of Jalen Carter, Georgia’s All-American defensive tackle and a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The warrants are for reckless driving and racing during a fatal crash that occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 in Athens, killing Georgia staff member Chandler LeCroy and offensive lineman Devin Willock.
This much we know about the now ever-evolving events of the tragic night: 2 people are dead, and Carter is under investigation.
This much we don’t know: By leaving the scene of the accident and returning 2 hours later, did Carter avoid field sobriety tests — thereby, potentially limiting the impact of his involvement?
And what did Georgia officials know, and when did they know it?
It has been 46 days since the deadly accident, 46 long, painful days for the families of LeCroy and Willock. And now the arrest of All-American linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson last week comes into disturbing focus — as does Smart’s control of the team.
Five days before the accident that killed LeCroy and Willock, police say Dumas-Johnson was recklessly racing in Athens; he was charged 5 weeks later.
According to the police report, the Dumas-Johnson warrant was issued from an investigation into “two vehicles traveling next to each other on College Station Road in a reckless manner at high speeds that fled the area upon sign of the officer.”
And let’s not forget the events of April 2022, when police say Georgia defensive end Travon Walker, the eventual No.1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, crashed into 2 parked cars late into the night — and no citation was issued. We don’t know the details surrounding that accident. Walker told reporters that his accident was a “just a little fender-bender. Nothing crazy. Nobody was hurt.”
One is an anomaly, 2 is a trend and 3 means it’s time for Smart to do something. Anything.
The time for canned quotes from Smart about being “deeply concerned” by the latest incident is long gone. It’s time for him to make a statement and take back his program.
Dismiss Dumas-Johnson, and publicly declare that any Georgia player arrested for racing cars will face the same penalty. Because how does anyone associated with the university — from sports-friendly president Jere Morehead, to athletic director Josh Brooks, to Smart — not see this trend with 3 elite players (Walker, Dumas-Johnson, Carter) and the tragedy it eventually birthed?
Assuming the police reports are accurate in each instance, how does anyone associated with the university see that the 1st incident resulted in no charges, the 2nd resulted in charges 5 weeks down the road, and the 3rd is being investigated as part of 2 deaths — and not make a defining decision to end this before the next arrest for racing and reckless driving results in another tragedy?
Police say their investigation found that LeCroy and Carter were “operating vehicles in a manner consistent with racing shortly after leaving the downtown Athens area at about 2:30 a.m.”
According to police, Carter left the scene of the accident and returned 2 hours later. When he returned, he first lied and said he heard the crash from a nearby apartment complex, then admitted he was driving behind and next to the car.
A timeline wasn’t revealed, but it’s hard to imagine the ACCPD not contacting Georgia officials that night and explaining Carter’s alleged involvement, and that he initially lied to investigators. Why in the world would the ACCPD not contact Georgia about a football player — and more important, the team’s best football player — about his possible involvement in an accident that resulted in the death of another of its players?
Look, if we’re not asking what Georgia officials knew and when did they know it, we’re not doing right by LeCroy and Willock. The idea of the university and football team mourning their deaths while protecting another player is unimaginable.
“The charges announced today are deeply concerning, especially as we are still struggling to cope with the devastating loss of two beloved members of our community,” Smart said in a statement. “We will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities while supporting these families and assessing what we can learn from this horrible tragedy.”
It has been 46 days since LeCroy and Willock lost their lives, 46 days since police said Carter returned to the scene 2 hours after the fact and became a focus of the investigation.
Only now, when Carter is preparing to interview with NFL teams at the Combine, does the news of his involvement surface.
Three elite players, at least 2 nearly identical incidents of reckless driving and racing. And 2 tragic deaths.
The Georgia football program has a problem.
It’s time to stop protecting players and fix it.