Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: Walking a fine line

Something I learned long ago about writing columns is never try to please everyone. It's neither possible nor purposeful. My column is my opinion or perspective. Readers will have their own. If one of my purposes is to get others to a different perspective, then I should be open to the same.

Sports is like politics, though. Too often, people determine their stance based on emotional allegiance rather than examining the issue. I've never joined a political party, and I don't have an allegiance to any big-time college. Now, if Georgia State ever joins the SEC, that could change.

This comes to mind in the wake of my column Sunday on Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. I took the position that Marshall should be suspended for the season opener against Arkansas after he was caught with marijuana in a traffic stop in Taylor County.

Predictably, many Auburn fans took exception, though it should be noted that some Auburn fans who believe their school ought to have high standards of conduct agreed with me.

Whether anyone agrees or disagrees isn't really the point. Who is to say that either position is right or wrong? If Auburn coach Gus Malzahn decides not to suspend Marshall, then I will give him the benefit of doubt that he knows the situation and the person involved in much more depth than any of us ever could.

Rather, the point is that college football fans, especially in the deep south where they are so passionate, often confuse anything less than banner-waving support as an attack on their school. If you believe the hurry-up, no-huddle offense is bad for college football then you must hate Auburn. If you believe Nick Saban is less than sincere when he cites player safety as his reason for wanting to slow down those offense, then you must hate Alabama.

Just because millions of Americans are passionately conservative or liberal does not mean that moderates do not exist.

Maybe I live in a fantasy world, but I do believe college athletics -- even big-time football, which rakes in millions upon millions of dollars -- serves a greater purpose than to just exploit the athletes for their talents in order to win games and make money. That purpose is to take these kids and mold them into men and women who will lead productive lives. Do coaches and administrators lose sight of that purpose? Of course. But the purpose still exists.

College age is sort of the middle school of adulthood. For most that age, there's a part of them that wants to remain under their parents' protective wings. There's another part of them that wants to explore beyond their familiar boundaries. There's always going to be some older students eager to help them explore.

There are many societal reasons that are contributing factors. But there's also one basic human reason -- a fair number of college kids are going to do stupid things no matter the consequences.

When those kids are athletes, it becomes news. It's bigger news when they are scholarship football players, and even bigger news when they are the starting quarterback and a Heisman Trophy candidate for a national championship contender.

When I write a column about it, I hear, "You must be an Alabama fan."

Funny how I didn't hear that a few months ago when I criticized Saban for wanting to slow down hurry-up, no huddle offenses under the guise of player safety.

I didn't hear that when I wrote after the Mississippi State game than Marshall's last minute heroics gave the Tigers' season unlimited possibilities.

"You must be a Georgia fan."

Didn't hear that when I scolded Isaiah Crowell for failing to take responsibility for getting kicked off the team at Georgia.

"How about writing on Jameis Winston?"

Well, it's simple: I try to keep my column local. Auburn is one of the teams we cover. Florida State is not.

"Lots of players get caught with weed. Why did you single out Nick Marshall?"

I wrote much stronger column on Tray Matthews when he was kicked off Georgia's team by Mark Richt. This was before Matthews landed at Auburn.

But it's a fair question. After all, I didn't write a column in March when four Georgia players -- Matthews, defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, outside linebacker James DeLoach and receiver Uriah LeMay were arrested on theft charges for double depositing stipends. The Matthews column came later, after his classroom run-in with a student.

Nor did I write a column when two Alabama players were arrested in the span of eight days -- Kenyan Drake for obstructing governmental operations and Jarran Reed for DUI. I'm not writing a column on Brandon Morris, the Georgia basketball player kicked off the team Monday for felony marijuana charges.

But I also didn't write a column when Auburn cornerback Jonathan Mincy was arrested and charged with second degree marijuana possession.

So what made Marshall's citation column worthy? To me, it's simple. He's the face of Auburn's program. Even Malzahn used that exact phrase. As the starting quarterback and a senior, he's one of the leaders of the team. More than just being a leader, he's a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Morris was a key returning player for the Bulldogs. But it's basketball. Hardly anybody cares, especially as football season draws near.

Marshall's also a guy who already has had one serious misstep before, his involvement in theft from a teammate which got him kicked off the team at Georgia. Marshall paid a fair price for his second chance -- a year of junior college. But the fact is that this wasn't his first lapse in judgment, so something beyond the minimum punishment for a first-offender seems reasonable and appropriate.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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