Chuck Williams: Athletes caught in middle of Columbus Parks and Rec scandal achieving success

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 19, 2013 

Did the end justify the means?

Over the weekend, Auburn named Nick Marshall, a University of Georgia transfer via the junior college route, as its starting quarterback. Marshall was a high school star in Wilcox County, but he does have a Columbus connection. He was one of the elite basketball players on the Georgia Blazers, a Nike-sponsored AAU travel team run out of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

Marshall is not the first former Blazer to accomplish athletic success this summer. Jarvis Jones, a Georgia linebacker and former Carver High star, was the NFL draft’s 17th pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a Greenville High star before signing with Georgia, was the eighth pick of the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.

Impressive.

But here is a rest of the story.

Former Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams, former city recreation services specialist Herman Porter and William Fox, director of East Marietta Basketball Inc., pleaded guilty in March 2011 to charges arising from their roles with the Blazers program. Adams and Fox pleaded guilty to felony charges and Porter pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors.

The three men were accused of defrauding the city by diverting public funds from the Blazers. Fox for a time was the conduit through which Adams and Porter got money and gear from Nike, and those funds should have gone into city coffers instead of into a private account Adams and Porter controlled, police said.

Part of the uproar leading to the police investigation was that the city-funded Blazers program catered to athletes from a 100-mile or more radius of Columbus and not just Columbus kids.

Which leads us back to the question of the day. Did the end justify the means?

Ask Montgomery, Ala., sports attorney Donald Jackson, who during the summer of 2010 briefly represented Adams and Porter before they faced criminal charges.

“The talent on that roster is insignificant to me,” Jackson said. “I honestly felt — and feel — Tony and Herman were focused on improving the lives of African-American men in Columbus and the surrounding area. No one at that time could have thought there was an SEC starting quarterback, a first-round NBA draft pick and a first-round NFL draft pick on that roster. To think that would have been a huge leap.”

Still, Adams, as the coach, and Porter, as the talent scout, brought these athletes together in Comer Gym. Their quest cost them their jobs.

They were mingling city money with private funds. They were running new city vans to north Florida and south Georgia to shuttle athletes to and from practice and tournaments.

They were traveling from one coast to another using a mix of public and private money. And while they were on the city payroll, their focus was not a well-rounded parks and recreation department but rather a highly competitive elite basketball team.

So did the end justify the means?

“The end is trying to get young African-American men off the streets and create opportunities for them to educate themselves and live a positive crime-free existence,” Jackson said. “For me, that is the end. And I honestly believe that was the end for Herman and Tony. If that was the goal, then mission accomplished.”

Jackson points to years of work by Porter and Adams to get impoverished kids off the streets and into gyms and onto athletic fields. Though both have been arrested and convicted for their roles, Jackson finds little fault with what they did. In fact, he believes the black community needs more people like Adams and Porter willing to work to keep kids off the streets and out of the jails.

“In my opinion,” he said, “they should have gotten a pat on the back. ... The final question I would have asked is not how many first-round draft picks did they produce — I want to know how many kids they kept off the police blotter.”

Chuck Williams is senior editor for content.

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