A Matter of Drinking, Race and Embarrassment at UGA

ATLANTA–  Imagine the feeling as I  turned on the TV here to see  a mug shot of what appears to be a dazed Damon Evans on the news.

Atlanta Police Photo

As a two-time University of Georgia graduate (master’s degree in 1999, Ph.D. in 2002),  I am a part of the Bulldawg (that’s the way a lot of us spell it) nation.  So, when the UGA Athletic Director is in trouble, it’s like a punch in the gut.

Evans, who challenges attendees at UGA football games not to drink and drive, was himself arrested here in Atlanta for DUI on Wednesday night.

He’s the first African American athletic director in the Southeastern Conference and generally well-respected.  While I don’t know him personally,  In his appointment, I had a lot of pride not only as a UGA grad, but as an African American alumnus in all that he represents.

Now THIS– a case where as of this writing, President Michael Adams has not decided on Evans’ future.   Adams, who issued a brief statement while on vacation this week,  has a news conference already scheduled for Tuesday.  Perhaps we’ll hear something more from him then.

A Matter of Drinking

On the same day as USA Today ran a cover story on the number of “dry” counties in America deciding to “go wet” or allow alcohol sales,  a well-respected UGA administrator gets in trouble for drinking and driving.

I’m probably not to the one to be writing this column as I don’t drink.

One of my professors, an African American I might add, teased me when I was graduate school  because I was a teetotaler.   I didn’t know what that word meant.   The reason I mention his race will make more sense if you read further in this posting.

I just know that I grew up in a home where beer and wine was rarely ever seen or consumed and I read a church covenant every second Sunday that I should ” not use alcohol as an intoxicating drink”     So to this day in my 40 years, I’ve never had or desired a drop of beer or wine.

The issue of my abstaining from alcohol came up in an article I wrote for the UGA student newspaper about binge drinking and how I thought it was a cultural thing.   I mentioned that this was a not a practice that I witnessed as an undergraduate at Howard University, one of the historically black colleges and universities.

A Matter of Race

Well,  my argument about binge drinking being a part of the culture of predominantly white state universities may be slightly weakened by Damon Evans’ arrest.    Although there’s no evidence that Mr. Evans was binge drinking, the impact of alcohol is STILL the issue.

Drinking (binge or not) is a problem in whatever community one is in.

So, can we remove race from the picture?  Not yet.

I think those who break the racial barriers have a higher calling because we are showing that people who look like us can serve in these types of positions.

Atlanta Journal Constitution photo (by Curtis Compton) of Damon Evans at news conference on Thursday

This is not to say that Damon Evans, or any other African American is or should be perfect.   But, the damage is greater than just a fallen leader at UGA.

He’s a fallen black leader at UGA and that makes the situation worse for those like myself who are interested in seeing UGA shine as an example of diversity.  So I have to bring race into the equation.

A Matter of Embarrassment

As some of the news reporters put it last night, Mr. Evans seemed contrite in his news conference last night, stopping short of volunteering to resign.    Still, seeing those soundbites played and re-played on all four Atlanta TV stations last night was tough.

But, the worse punishment for this may be the embarrassment for him and his family.

It also doesn’t help that another young woman, who Evans described as “just a friend,” was in his vehicle at the time of the arrest.

We can read whatever we want into this story.  And, I’m sure many have.

But, the fact is I, like so many other UGA alumni, am embarrassed by what has happened.

I introduced the issue of race.  But, when we as Georgia Bulldawgs proudly wear our red and black, neither our race nor ethnicity matter.

Whether we come from privileged or less-than-privileged beginnings, UGA grads are the same in our pride for our school.  And, we can’t help but feel a little awkward as we put on our black and red today (Friday).

My purpose in writing this was to lay out some of the thoughts going through my mind as I watched this ordeal.

What Should Damon Evans Do?

I hope Mr. Evans doesn’t resign or have to be fired.

I do think he should be suspended for a few weeks, a time for him to do what he said himself he needed to do– figure out why he did what he did.

As a non-drinker, I can’t begin to understand why you would drink in the first place.   If your judgment is impaired, it could explain why you would not think before you drive.    But, I go back to what does the alcohol provide?   Is it just “social drinking?”

Mr. Evans has to think about what this whole incident means for him and his career and MOST OF ALL– his credibility to fans when that first UGA game takes place between the hedges this fall.  Will there be a new person giving the ‘don’t drink and drive message on the jumbotron?’

What should the Bulldawg nation do?

Well, I would suggest we PRAY for Mr. Evans,  Mr. Evans’ wife and President Michael Adams, who has a tough decision to make.

I believe wholeheartedly that Prayer Changes Things.

I will be back in Atlanta next week.    By then, I hope we will see the healing process beginning for Mr. Evans.    I will certainly be praying for that today.

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Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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