Normally, news that a celeb or semi-celeb has been arrested for drunk driving with the red panties of a female companion who was not his wife adorning his lap would set the Ol' Bloviator to salivating at the prospect of launching yet another salvo of sarcasm, ridicule, innuendo and double entendre, all delivered in the poorest of taste, of course. Maybe he's just jaded because such accounts have become so commonplace, but the case of Damon Evans, the former (as in name gone from the door, website, etc. in a nanosecond and now known as "Damon Who?") athletic director at the University of Georgia just makes the OB sad. This, he hastens to add, has nothing to do with his well-known allegiance to UGA sports. The OB has taken pains to point on more than one occasion to the disparity between the high, wide and handsome lifestyle of UGA's athletic department and the starvation-alert status of academics on the UGA campus. For example, prior to his costly indiscretion, Damon Evans was set to receive a $110k raise after his faculty and staff colleagues had just endured an effective 3% pay cut, courtesy of six unpaid furlough days. This show of "bad judgment" by Mr. Evans (You could have fooled me. I thought it was just a routine indulgence in drunkenness and lust) also came as he was overseeing a $40 million upgrade to athletic facilities on a campus where academic departments are operating on budgets tighter than spandex shorts on Roseanne Barr's butt.
Evans's demise is all the more embarrassing to UGA because his was the voice and face on the video that ran in the fourth quarter of each home game warning fans not to drink and drive. It's a good bet that we won't be seeing that this season, although using Photoshop to impose a set of bars in front of him as he delivers his sermonette, might actually be the most effective way to go. The Ol' Bloviator is in no position to jump all high and mighty on the matter of Evans's inebriation. He's on his own on the panties, however. What the OB finds so sad here is the pattern of anointing athletic figures with such high and mighty status that they can--and so often do--presume themselves beyond the standards of accountability confronting the rest of us. The arrest report indicates that both Evans and his commando-styling female companion intimated to the officer that he shouldn't be arrested because he was the athletic director at UGA. (Smart move, guys) That either of them, even in a state of tipsiness, could even think in such terms tells us all we need to know about how out-of-whack our social priorities have become.
As if we needed further affirmation here comes the story out of Knoxville of a brutal assault allegedly involving several University of Tennessee players both on a bar patron and then an on off-duty policeman in the wee hours of Friday morning. The following is the account of bar owner and eyewitness Sandy Morton:
"Basically, it was a normal Thursday night -- Thursday's our big night," Morton said. "We had all the UT football players come in. They're on a first-name basis with my husband (and co-owner), and they get VIP status, which means they pay no cover at the door.
We've never had a problem with them in the past, but tonight, apparently they had a falling out with another gentleman. I don't know why. I don't know what happened, but several of the guys started beating up the other customer. I want to guess there was seven to 10 guys beating up this one gentleman.
"All the security then rushed in and were trying to break it up. My husband saw them picking up bar stools and starting to swing them. We got them out the door with security. There happened to be a friend of ours who was an off-duty police officer outside. He tried to help, and he ended up getting knocked out in the street and proceeded to be kicked while he was down on the ground in the middle of Cumberland [Avenue].
"That's basically the gist of it."
This version does not include the alleged slugging of one of the police officers who arrived to break up the incident, but it does mention that one of the players apparently involved in the incident had already been arrested less than three months ago on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The alleged offenses committed by these young men may seem very different in character from the alleged (and apparent) offenses of Damon Evans, but, the OB believes the connection between them is remarkably clear. Some of the UT athletes were recently arrived freshmen whose announcements about where they were going to play had been major media events, not just on the local or regional but even the national scene. Imagine the recent LaBron-athon in a high school cafeteria and you'll get the picture. These lads were clearly accustomed to deference and elevated status even before they got to Knoxville, where that status became exponentially more exalted still. What need had they for concern about the rules and constraints restricting the lesser persons who largely regarded them as members of a hero-elite? Damon Evans is a forty year old man, whose career as a UGA football player had been solid but unspectacular. He had shown competence and potential as a subaltern administrator in the athletic department at Georgia, however, and when his boss and mentor Vince Dooley was forced out as athletic director in 2003, Evans, at 34, became one of the youngest athletic directors in the country and the only black AD in the Southeastern Conference. (By the way, there were only twenty-two black athletic directors at Division 1 schools throughout the country in 2009.) Being AD at Georgia is not like being a Heisman Trophy candidate, but it's definitely a celebrity-level gig, with a car, expense account and what would have been for Evans, a $500k plus salary for the coming year. There's also guaranteed social entrée and a predictable coterie of hangers-on eager to win your favor. Any way you slice it, Damon Evans had all this and even the prospect of something bigger, and he blew it. His race has nothing to do with why he behaved as he did any more than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's whiteness explains his arrogant boorishness. What the two share, however unequally, is an apparent inability to handle the instant and easy celebrity that comes with a high profile position in the athletic world. Neither man has anyone other than himself to blame for his actions, of course, but we sports-fanatics might have at least some culpability here as enablers. Regrettably, where Roethlisberger's offenses convey no negative racial connotations, Evans's fall from grace still does. Waiting in an airport last week, I overheard several young black professional types discussing the Evans affair. Upon getting all the details, one of them shook his head, observing, "This is bad for us." The opportunity afforded Damon Evans suggests we've come a long way, but when it comes to separating the content of a person's character, good or otherwise, from the color of his or her skin, we still have a ways to go.