John P. Lopez: What price victory? Alabama, Georgia reflect college sports’ bigger problem

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Vasha Hunt/AP/Shutterstock (13789201be) Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) reacts to a non-call during overtime at an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, in Tuscaloosa, Ala Auburn Alabama Basketball, Tuscaloosa, United States – 01 Mar 2023

John P. Lopez: What price victory? Alabama, Georgia reflect college sports’ bigger problem

This is not a story about Brandon Miller. This is not a story about Jalen Carter. This isn’t even a story about laws and rights and the ever-present blind-faith fan credo, “innocent until proven guilty.”

This is about athlete privilege. And the coaches and administrators who continue to feed the monster.

College sports has a serious problem that only collegiate presidents, athletic directors, and, significantly, head coaches can fix. But if the past month’s news cycle has proved anything, it is this:

There will be more. More tragedy, more valuing wins, and rankings over innocent, young lives.

More star football players will have more brushes with college-town law enforcement. More university-friendly law enforcement will conveniently look the other way. More basketball players will put themselves in dangerous and potentially fatal situations. More young emboldened athletes – especially the uber-talented ones – will play their games despite horrendous decision-making.

And we know this because college sports are littered with highly paid, highly hypocritical coaches like Alabama’s Nate Oats and Georgia’s Kirby Smart.

Year after year, they step into kids’ homes with a recruiting pitch that preaches character, accountability, and making responsible men of these stars. And year after year, when it comes to making tough decisions that might hurt the team but, in fact, build that character and accountability, they crumble.

They are consumed by self-preservation and manic ambition, with a healthy dash of narcissism. Go team.

And the mahogany-desked offices are where the focus should be when it comes to two of the saddest, most riveting stories in collegiate sports currently filling timelines across the country. The law and authorities may or may not find Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Georgia’s Jalen Carter responsible at some level for putting themselves in situations that led to the too-soon deaths of a young mother and two young lives associated with the Georgia football program. How it plays out, we’ll see.

This is about Alabama coach Nate Oats and Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and all those like them who rule over and impress young lives. Obviously, that is not to say there aren’t program leaders out there – many of them – who would have reacted differently in those situations. Integrity in the head coach’s office is not gone, but it seems more than obvious that it is on the endangered list.

These recent tragedies illustrate it loud and clear.

The Athens-Clark County Police Department filed misdemeanor charges against Carter on Wednesday, interestingly only after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story detailing Carter’s involvement in a high-speed crash that killed Devin Wilock, a Georgia defensive lineman, and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy.

Smart quickly issued a statement that said, in part, that the charges were, “deeply concerning.”

It was 46 days after the deadly accident, and Smart’s statement would indicate that he either didn’t know Carter’s involvement or didn’t ask, even though Carter had already been questioned by Athens police.

Kirby Smart, who rules the football program with detailed involvement and obsessive control, wants us to believe him.


Especially considering how a disturbing pattern of off-field questions have risen at Georgia, Smart wants us to believe it was all news to him. This is the problem. If you can play, you get protection.

Just five days before the accident that killed LeCroy and Willock, police say Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson was recklessly racing in Athens. He was charged five weeks later.

Dumas-Johnson allegedly was involved in an incident in which there were, “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.”

A few months before that, police say Georgia defensive end Travon Walker, the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft last year, crashed into two parked cars late at night. No citation was issued.

Three reckless speeding incidents in his own backyard, and Kirby Smart was oblivious to it all? Please.

Then there is Nate Oats.

His bumbling response to his star player at some level being involved in the death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonea Harris in Tuscaloosa was practically belligerent. Miller, of course, is the Crimson Tide’s best player and likely NCAA Player Of The Year. The Tide is in the midst of one of its greatest seasons, too, likely earning a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and among the favorites to win the championship.

Oats’ response to Miller’s deciding to take a gun to the scene of what would be a murder – at the request of a friend who was involved? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

While authorities investigated and did not cite Miller as being involved, Miller’s decision-making and involvement were unquestioned. Yet Miller continues to play, at one point after the murder, even being mock patted down by a teammate during introductions.

No suspension until the investigation is done. No penalty for his ill-advised decision-making. No nothing.

Somewhere, somehow, there are adults in the room on college campuses, and eventually, they will do what’s right, not what’s right in the wins and loss column. We should all hope that’s the case, anyway.

The problem for now and, sadly, the future: Rarely is that adult in the head coach’s office.

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  • John,

    I am relived to see their is a respected writer presenting the facts for all to see. Nate Oates is not
    helping to shape this young mans future by supporting Brandon Millers decision to get involved
    in a shooting. I could not believe coach Oates and his boss did nothing about it. I agree that you
    just can’t look the other way because of a basketball game needs to be won.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Excellent article. When are we going to hold the role models for these players accountable? The management for these players accountable just like in a job. When? Thank you OG

  • Great article. I’m afraid the NIL money has only made these problems worse.

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