I’ve gotten a few emails in response to my posts on the above subjects and read a bunch of things from others this week about the same. Georgia, it’s safe to say, finds itself in a unique situation due to some unusual timing, and maybe it’s worth going back to sort a few things out to determine what’s the best way to go forward, particularly in Patrick’s case.
Let’s start with the obvious. Georgia’s draconian substance abuse policy was created by Michael Adams, who is neither a public safety nor a health expert. Adams was and is a politician, a politician who in this case wanted to show the world that he was serious about doing something. My feeling is that enforcing a zero tolerance policy generally does more harm than good and what Adams came up with was no exception to that rule of thumb. It’s hard to see what he accomplished, other than to put Georgia athletics behind the eight ball compared with its conference peers, something that was acknowledged early on as McGarity tried more than once to lobby SEC schools to bring their own policies in line with Georgia.
From there, it’s worth your taking the time to read this Q&A Ron Courson had with the media yesterday on the subject of the school’s revised policy. He fielded a lot of good, tough questions, like this opening exchange:
What was the need to revise the substance abuse policy?
Courson: “I think with anything, you want to take a look at any existing policy you have, and things change. One of the biggest things we’re looking, drug rehab and substance abuse issues, you need to look at from a medical standpoint. I think many times in the past it was looked at from a disciplinary standpoint. Substance abuse is a medical problem just like any other medical problem we see. A great example, 15 to 20 years ago, orthopedics looked a protocols. If you had an MCL or an ACL protocol, you followed it. What we found, both didn’t work very well. You tried to use a cookbook approach and you needed to individualize everything. So we tried to craft our substance-abuse policy the same way — is look at it on an individual basis from a problem-solving standpoint. Every case is different. Every student athlete is different. So we’re trying to use that same philosophy and look at it from a problem solving standpoint. That was the main reason in looking at the protocol.”
Why was it in the past that a legal citation counted as a positive test? I assume what your saying, Ron, is why you felt the need to change it, but why was that previous policy in place?
Courson: “We tried to be consistent with university policy as well. Our student-athletes are actually students at the university as well. The university has an existing alcohol and drug policy as well. So we tried to standardize that. That’s where the level one and level two came from. That language actually existed with the university policy.
Read that carefully, and there’s plenty to unpack. Courson is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect, so when he says it was time to view the policy from a medical standpoint, and not a disciplinary one, I take him at his word. (I also think that’s the proper approach, for what it’s worth.) Inherent in that change of philosophy is a rebuke of Adams’ vision, although Courson tries to be careful to avoid a hard distinction with that second answer.
In any event, if the school is to look at Patrick in light of what’s best for him, medically speaking, rather than in terms of pure punishment, the specific question then becomes does it serve that goal best to let him play or not?
That the nation has become desensitized to all matters involving marijuana use, rightly or wrongly, and that Georgia has a stricter anti-drug policy than most collegiate athletic departments should not be a part of this debate.
There are only two factors that need be considered here when it comes to whether Natrez Patrick plays another football game for Georgia this season:
1. The kid has a problem. Patrick, a junior inside linebacker, has been either arrested, tested positive or been present for six incidents involving marijuana use in less than three years at Georgia. He has done so despite a disciplinary action that included a four-game suspension this season and repeated warnings that persisting in drug use could lead to expulsion. There’s a saying about addicts: Even when they know what will happen when they take that first pill, drink or fix, they still do so. That’s the “insanity” of the illness.
2. If the Bulldogs look the other way and allow him to play in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, they effectively will be endorsing and enabling Patrick’s behavior — past, present and moving forward. They will be saying, “This football game is more important than the kid’s well-being.”
Now, before any of you start throwing the click-bait card down, I don’t believe that’s where Schultz is coming from. He’s written movingly about dealing with a substance abuse problem in his own family. So what I read here isn’t cynicism. Quite the opposite; he’s impassioned, even to the point of righteous, albeit misplaced, anger. (I mean,“But Healan is a defense attorney. He’s not paid to have a conscience or an ounce of moral fiber.”? Seriously?)
So while I don’t question his sincerity, I do question some of his logical underpinnings. For one thing, that Georgia has a stricter anti-drug policy than most collegiate athletic departments sure as hell should be a part of this debate. Not because of competitive disadvantage, but because of the protocol’s structural flaw of which Courson spoke. Punishing Patrick purely for punishment’s sake isn’t more important than the kid’s well-being, either.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect Schultz is more invested in the second reason — how Georgia and Smart will look if Patrick is allowed to play in the Rose Bowl — than anything else. What he’s arguing is that even if Courson finds that, purely from a medical standpoint, Patrick’s suspension from the program won’t have any positive impact on his rehabilitation, it doesn’t matter. In other words, the punishment is the program’s own reward, regardless of the effect on the kid. I have a hard time swallowing that.
Which brings me back around to where I’m at. I think it boils down to this:
- Natrez Patrick’s use of marijuana has been stupid, selfish and careless. His suspensions have hurt his teammates and his coaches.
- His use of marijuana also violated state law and school policy. If Smart decides on that basis alone that Patrick shouldn’t be allowed to suit up against Oklahoma, he’ll hear nary a word of disagreement from me.
- However, if the real issue now is Patrick’s well-being, then the ultimate arbiter of his fate isn’t me, Kirby Smart or Jeff Schultz. It’s Ron Courson and Georgia’s medical staff. Whichever way they decide, as long as it’s through an honest process without any pressure brought to bear by the coaching staff or other non-professionals in Butts-Mehre, I’m totally cool with their call.
I don’t have the first clue whether Natrez Patrick is a consummate dumbass or an addict. Going back to my college days, I’ve known both types. I had to help check a college buddy into a facility for substance abuse. I also had plenty of college friends who used marijuana regularly but still managed to go to class, make good grades, graduate on time and go on to success in the business world and with their families. Every case, every person, then, is different. It’s Courson’s job to make an honest determination. Let him do his job, if that’s how the school’s new substance abuse policy rolls.
I’m tired of empty gestures. I’m tired of stupid gestures, such as surprise drug testing immediately following spring break. Or the futile, feel good nonsense of taking pride in having a tougher drug policy than other schools for the mere satisfaction of occupying the moral high ground. Or Jimmy Williamson taking it on himself to undermine a sensible amnesty policy enacted by the state legislature.
It shouldn’t be about making adults feel holier-than-thou. It should be about making sure kids get the support they need when they do stupid things, which kind of goes with the territory. If Patrick crossed a line where that help entails getting him off the field for good, so be it. Just let that be an informed decision about his specific issues, not how we look at the school in the morning if he plays.
Okay, I’ll climb down off my moral soapbox now.