Georgia has discipline problem that calls for action from Kirby Smart

Once is an incident, twice is a pattern and three times is a problem.

Kirby Smart has a problem within Georgia’s football program. There’s no denying that, not after Jalen Carter’s misdemeanor arrests for racing and reckless driving, connecting him to the high-speed car crash that killed Georgia football player Devin Willock and recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy.

Too many people within Georgia’s football program throw caution into the wind when behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Police say LeCroy’s blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit and that she was driving a Ford Expedition leased by Georgia athletics at speeds reaching 104 mph before crashing on a road with a 40 mph speed limit. LeCroy was racing Carter, Athens-Clarke County police say, with their vehicles switching lanes, overtaking other vehicles and driving in wrong lanes as they tried to outdistance each other.

Carter starred on defense for Georgia’s back-to-back national championship teams. He returned from the NFL scouting combine to turn himself in on the warrant, and he was released on bond. In a statement, Carter says he expects to be exonerated.

The fatal car crash continued a pattern of high-speed and dangerous driving emanating from Smart’s football program. Georgia football has a problem that calls for Smart to be more than a sympathetic spectator.

Smart has offered little public comment since the 2:45 a.m. car crash on Jan. 15 that killed LeCroy and Willock and injured athlete Warren McClendon and recruiting staffer Tory Bowles.

In a Wednesday statement, Smart said the charges against Carter are “deeply concerning,’ and Georgia is “assessing what we can learn from this horrible tragedy.” He better be saying a whole lot more internally to players and staff members, reaffirming ground rules for acceptable conduct and then enforcing them.

Start with Jamon Dumas-Johnson.

Carter is no longer subject to Smart’s discipline. Dumas-Johnson is, and Smart should suspend his star linebacker following his arrest on misdemeanor charges for racing and reckless driving in an incident occurring mere days before the fatal crash. Dumas-Johnson also was listed on police logs as a person police wanted to speak with on the night of the fatal accident.

Dumas-Johnson’s name on a log proves nothing but insinuates plenty.

This situation stinks more with each peel of the onion.

You just knew there was more to this story after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s report weeks ago that Willock, McClendon and two women resembling LeCroy and Bowles left an Athens strip club shortly before the crash.

Visiting a strip club is no crime. Neither is enjoying libations at a strip club.

But it all points to a night that needed to end with a safe ride home in an Uber after the reveling concluded.

This situation is a tragedy – tragedy that could have been avoided.

LeCroy’s decisions cost her and Willock their lives.

Carter’s decisions might damage his NFL draft stock. Once projected a top-five pick, he’ll go under the microscope of NFL evaluators.

The AJC has shined a light on what happened the night of the deadly crash with multiple investigative reports. The newspaper, citing documents it had reviewed, reported that Carter left the accident scene for more than an hour before returning and giving police shifting accounts of what happened.

Recent events point to continued bad choices by Carter after he was cited in September for driving 89 in a 45 mph zone.

And what of Dumas-Johnson, whom police say was engaged in high-speed, side-by-side racing?

Georgia officials have said little about Dumas-Johnson’s charges other than they’re aware of them.

Anyone who monitors college football is aware of them, but Georgia and its coach have the responsibility to do something. It’s unclear whether they have. At a minimum, Dumas-Johnson’s decisions should result in a suspension that keeps him off the field when Georgia opens the season.

Disciplinary action serves multiple purposes. It addresses the misconduct, and it acts as a deterrent aimed at nipping problem issues in the bud.

Reckless driving is a problem issue that Smart cannot ignore amid sweeping disciplinary problems. An analysis by the Athens Banner-Herald cited at least nine Georgia football player arrests in the past 13½ months for charges ranging from reckless driving to battery to false imprisonment.

At least one law enforcement warning went unheeded.

The police officer who stopped Carter for high-speed driving last September repeatedly asked him to slow down in the future and to caution his teammates to do the same.

High-speed reckless driving, according to the officer’s remarks recorded on body camera, was an issue rooted within the program.

“I’ve stopped a bunch of y’all’s football players,” the officer told Carter, as he rattled off other traffic stops he’d made. “Y’all need to slow down.”

“When you’re around your teammates, just tell them to slow down. It’s so easy. Just slow down.”

The message didn’t get through.

Smart must use his voice and his leadership position to ensure it does.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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