YARBROUGH COLUMN: At UGA, bad decisions bring tragic consequences

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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The Beloved Woman Who Shared My Name used to tell her grandsons, “You are free to make any decision you wish. Just remember that with those decisions come consequences, good or bad.” I thought about those wise words while pondering some very bad decisions that have cost two people their lives and have cast a pall over my alma mater.

Chandler LeCroy, 24, a recruiting specialist for the University of Georgia football team, and Devin Willock, 20, an offensive lineman, were killed in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 in a car crash after celebrating UGA’s second consecutive national football championship. Two other passengers, recruiting staff member, Tory Bowles, 26, and offensive tackle Warren McClendon, 21, survived.

It has been determined that LeCroy was driving an unauthorized Athletic Department vehicle and racing with UGA football star Jalen Carter. Her car went off the road, snapped two power poles and hit several trees before coming to rest at the edge of an apartment complex. Police investigators described the crash as a combination of “alcohol impairment, racing, reckless driving and speed.”

LeCroy’s blood alcohol level was .197 — twice the legal limit — and she was traveling 104 mph when the crash occurred. Carter, who has been projected as a top pick in the upcoming NFL draft, at first denied being involved and told police that he was a mile away when the crash occurred. He reportedly left the scene of the crash before emergency personnel arrived and returned to the scene two hours later.

Carter has been charged with two misdemeanors — reckless driving and racing. The warrant alleges that he was racing his 2021 Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk against LeCroy’s (or the Athletic Department’s) 2021 Ford Expedition. Carter posted a $4,000 bond, issued a statement saying he will be exonerated and headed back to the NFL combine in Indianapolis. He didn’t mention the part about supposedly lying to the police.

At this point, UGA seems paralyzed and unsure what to do or say. So far, they haven’t said much of anything. I suspect the lawyers are running things because you can bet your bottom dollar there are going to be a lot of lawsuits coming from this tragic incident and their reaction is usually to say nothing. That is a bad strategy because it allows the public to establish its own narrative and puts the institution on the defensive.

I would suggest that somebody in the administration and the athletic department get in touch with the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, where I generously fund an excellent crisis communications program. They would be willing and able to help. Although sometimes a prophet is without honor in its own country, or in this case, its own university.

In the meanwhile, the general perception — and like it or not, perception quickly becomes reality in the court of public opinion — is that our football program is out of control. Sadly, this is not the first time UGA football players have made headlines for the wrong reasons.

And don’t tell me that bad things also occur in football programs at other schools. That’s like the Trump crowd trying to justify to me the Jan. 6 Capitol riots because some thugs in downtown Atlanta burned police cars and looted stores.

The University of Georgia isn’t any other school. It is first and foremost an academic institution and a good one that is getting better. While we all delight in the success of the football program, it cannot be allowed to overshadow the university’s mission of academic excellence. And right now, it is doing just that.

Kirby Smart has done an outstanding job of recruiting top athletes from across the country to come play football at the University of Georgia and the results speak for themselves — two national football championships in a row. But he needs to remind them that when they put on that helmet with the iconic “G,” they represent more than an opportunity to play professional football. They represent his alma mater and mine and many of yours. Make us proud on the field. Don’t embarrass us off the field.

There is a cloud hanging over the University of Georgia today because somebody didn’t follow the admonition of the Beloved Woman Who Shared My Name: “You are free to make any decision you wish. Just remember that with those decisions come consequences, good or bad.” I hope somebody in Athens will heed her words. For two young people, it’s too late.