The Damon Evans Decision: Waiting and Wondering
The wait-and-see approach is exasperating when you are blind.
And yet, that is the route I chose to proceed upon when it came to Damon Evans. As someone who has been criticized before (somewhat justly) for burying someone in the media before, this time around was certainly going to be different. Just let it sit awhile, wait and see what happens next. Wait for the full police report. Wait until University of Georgia President Michael Adams makes a decision.
Let all the facts come out before you put anything down in print, regardless of your current criticism-filled take on the situation. Let it simmer, then let it all cool off.
When the news came out about Evans’ plight, plenty of text messages and a few e-mails reached me within the hour. Was this really happening? How could he screw up so monumentally? Did you see how he looked in his mugshot? That’s exactly how Trey Thompkins would have looked if he had entered this past year’s NBA Draft—completely and utterly disappointed.
A few wanted to know what was going to be written about him on the website, how harsh was it going to get, and so on. Well, unless a silence treatment is considered harsh, Damon Evans caught a pass from the knee-jerk reaction that immediately came to mind. There was to be no “Why Damon Evans Should Be Fired” or “Evans Can Take His Red Panties And Go Home For Good” article, as much as it would have been entertaining and effortless to do so.
After all, this was the same athletic director who received the media’s backing for much of his tenure, praising him for the hard-line he took on conduct and academics. That same media had now turned on Evans, for very good reason, yet with no remorse.
Many of Evans’ decisions found favor in my corner as well over the years, so I chose to not completely do a 180-degree turn as many did over the past six days. No sarcastic rebuttals, no prolonged antagonistic pieces on how he has screwed up his entire life and he always gave off a fragmentary impression over these past six years. Because, as memory serves, Evans did not warrant any of that during his tenure—which is why all of this has caught every Red & Black supporter so off-guard. This was a shocking revelation, and, to a certain extent, it hurt.
And so, the waiting game began.
But then came the Fourth of July, which meant a trip to the lake with no consideration of the impending news that was sure to face Evans when Michael Adams returned home from vacation. So we loaded up the car and left to enjoy the holiday on the water, only remembering halfway down the road that there was no form of media to be had at our destination spot. No television, no Internet, nada. Just a great time waiting to happen in the middle of nowhere, although it would come with the sacrifice of up-to-the-minute news on the Evans decision.
There was no “see” involved in this wait-and-see approach. The plan of writing something immediately after the decision was made become a vague afterthought.
It all became more of a wait and wonder.
Then came the fifth of July, and by the time we had returned home sporting fresh sunburns and soreness in muscles we never knew existed (much appreciation here goes to the cruel sport of tubing), the decision had been passed down: Damon Evans would no longer be the athletic director at the University of Georgia. And with those 14 words, the landscape of Georgia athletics changed.
Living in Athens and attending the university, you come to learn to appreciate or, at the very least, understand when a seismic shift is taking place on the very campus you walk on day-to-day. And even if this shift can not be considered seismic in the grand scheme of college sports, Georgia and SEC fans will still be feeling the tremors for a while to come.
This man took the reins of one of the largest, most successful, and most profitable athletic departments in the entire country at the age of 34. Imagine that, 34 years old. When Vince Dooley “stepped down” from his role as athletic director, many Bulldog fans were up in arms with the way the situation turned out for the head coach who had brought the 1980 national championship to Athens. And yet, when a former player with relatively little experience stepped into the same role and began filling the shoes accordingly, the complaints began to die down to a mere whimper.
The outside appearance gave off the luster that Georgia had tabbed their athletic director for the next 30-40 years. But Evans did not even make it to his seventh anniversary as athletic director, and he might not make it to his next anniversary at home either.
The real tragedy in the situation is the irony.
Irony can be hilarious and baffling on occasion, but sometimes it can be downright ruthless. Evans was at the forefront of the university’s campaign to eradicate the athletic program from the perception of Georgia being a party school. Athletes were being dismissed from their teams and best friends, essentially kicked out of the school—most notably with the Zach Mettenberger ordeal. There’s Evans’ public service announcement at the games that he is sure to make into an audio book for his BMW after all of this DUI dust settles.
The proactive procedure was in an effort to clean up the image of the school, although that image he was working so hard to build has now taken the biggest hit that it has in years. And that falls on Evans’ shoulders as well. The irony is cruel, but the punishment was fitting.
How could he command respect in the offices—much less his own household—knowing the rumors and behind-the-back talk that everyone would undoubtedly partake in? Who was going to lead the mandatory meetings athletes are forced to attend concerning their academics and conduct? How was Evans supposed to lead an athletic department into brighter days, or punish student-athletes for mistakes that he himself has now fallen into? He couldn’t. There is not an easier way to put it.
The man could not lead the Athletic Association following his actions and the manner in which he is now perceived. And that might be the most strenuous hurdle to overcome: perception.
With athletes, men and women are judged only by their actions on and off the field. Nothing more, nothing less. If you do your job to the fullest on the field, you earn a scholarship or a higher paycheck. As long as your actions off the field do not get your arrested or suspended, you are free to compete no matter how you are perceived by the public. Just ask Bill Romanowski or Dennis Rodman.
However, with a position such as an athletic director or university president, perception plays a much bigger role. Once that perception takes a negative turn, the credibility goes down along with it. Would a simple DUI been enough to have Damon Evans fired...er, forced to resign? Maybe, but uncertainty remains in that argument. But add in the fact that—true or not—he is perceived to have repeatedly committed adultery on his wife and mother of his two children with a 28-year-old woman, and it was only a matter of time.
Is Tiger Woods not allowed to compete on the PGA Tour because he has been involved with other women outside of wedlock? Absolutely not, because athletes are not subject to their jobs being in jeopardy based purely off of perception, only their actions. But when you are in a position where you hold the futures of hundreds of student-athletes in your hands based off of your opinion on their missteps, then you had better have some credibility to stand behind your stated values.
Perhaps this will all be for the best for the University of Georgia.
This may turn out to be just another obstacle in an offseason chalked full with them. Georgia will certainly be able to find plenty of qualified candidates interested in the position, hopefully ones that reach moral standards fitting for such a reputable position. Hopefully.
In retrospect, and as quickly as this abbreviated chapter in Georgia athletics came to a close, this could be one of those “Looking Back, That Really Was Not A Big Deal” scenarios.
It certainly was not enough to keep me from heading to the lake to celebrate a national holiday, and it should not keep Bulldog fans up at night, either. We may not know what is going to happen next for the program’s leadership, but the university would be hard-pressed to find any applicant more hypocritical than what has transpired in the past week.
Surely days attributed to higher standards are on the horizon, right?
Guess we’ll just have to wait and wonder.
(This article was originally published on the occasionally relevant sports website, Walking Into The Kicker .)
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