Alcohol has long been a part of campus culture.
The 125 players on Georgia’s football team are no different when it comes to college students who choose to drink during their down time when there aren’t any class or athletic requirements.
Of course, there are plenty of negative consequences that can occur during a night out drinking. That’s one reason why Georgia’s players have tried to set up an internal system to protect one another in case a dangerous situation arises.
Junior safety Dominick Sanders said that each Friday during the offseason, after the team’s final workout, there’s a discussion in the locker room at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. As Sanders says, it’s reiterated to his teammates that if anyone finds themselves in a situation – presumably if they’re too drunk and stranded without a ride – that there is always someone they can call.
The hope is to avoid instances such as the one that happened with sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter, who was arrested Sunday morning for suspicion of driving under the influence and underage consumption of alcohol. Ledbetter, 18, was found asleep behind the steering wheel at a traffic light, with his vehicle in drive and his foot on the brake pedal.
“We all talked to him and let him know to keep his head up,” Sanders said. “Don’t let this reflect on your career and bring you down. It doesn’t bring us down, the mistake he made. We all make mistakes. Staying focused is the main thing. He’s a good kid on and off the field. He’s on top of his academics. But he made a mistake. The one thing I tell him is to learn from the mistake and bounce back.”
Sanders said it was a horrible feeling to learn what happened to Ledbetter, especially since he and others believe there could have possibly been a way to prevent it.
“Players want to have fun, which we’re going to do,” Sanders said. “But if you ever come down to where you need one us, call us. We know Friday afternoon, after that last workout, kids want to go home and kids want to go have fun. The main thing is if you know trouble’s coming, call us. We’ll call a coach. We’ll let someone know before anything escalates.”
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday that Ledbetter will be suspended but declined to specify how many games he will miss. University policy specifies that a DUI arrest will result in a two-game suspension, but Ledbetter did have a prior underage consumption of alcohol and false identification arrest that ended in a dismissal. It’s unknown if that arrest will factor into Ledbetter’s suspension.
Smart said that each disciplinary case will be handled on an individual basis. That explains why two behavioral-related arrests led to defensive back Chad Clay’s dismissal while Ledbetter is still on the roster, despite the magnitude and severity of his DUI charge.
Georgia is treating Ledbetter’s issue as a disease, since that’s how the American Medical Association has defined alcoholism since 1956. Smart said he’d rather aid Ledbetter than kick him off the team at this time.
“Certainly, it is a disease,” Smart said. “I think that’s a known fact. I know that it’s affected Jonathan Ledbetter and it’s affected many people in the United States. That, to me, is the most disheartening thing, to see a young man in great health like himself make a poor decision. He’s got to pay the price for those decisions. We’re going to help him any way we can. By no means do I condone what he did. Drinking and driving is a bad thing. He’s going to pay the price for that. But we are going to stand by him and support him.”
Georgia plans to provide assistance for Ledbetter, who said in a statement Monday that he will "continue to receive additional treatment for this disease."
But Ledbetter still has to deal with the consequences of what occurred in the past. That stuck with junior tight end Jeb Blazevich, who wishes something could have done before it got to this point.
In the future, Blazevich hopes teammates who partake in drinking decide not to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
“I’ve told the guys, and there have been numerous guys on the team – Dominick and Brandon (Kublanow) have even said, ‘If you need help, call us,’" Blazevich said. "All the coaches have said the same thing: ‘If you need help, call us.’ The temptation, I believe, Satan brings you into is, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK,’ until you get too far. That’s when guys get in trouble. Again, that goes back to how can I help by asking the tough questions – ‘Hey dude, are you really good? Are you OK? I can help you out.’
“I think that’s what I need to do a better job of.”