It’s one of the many trite phrases that infiltrates the phrases of sports conversations, which are usually about as meaninful as the trite conversations most of us observers have about politics. “Winning is everything”.
Thus, the moral imperitive is shifted. Winning must be done at all costs. Rules become fungible. Personal conduct standards can be overlooked. Bragging rights for middle aged pot bellied alumni (hey! that’s me!) become more important that fundamentals. Than honor. Than character.
To be frank, many have often accused UGA head coach Mark Richt of “losing control of his program”. There have been a lot of disciplinary issues. Our nemesis, Coach Steve Spurrier, often jokes about getting to play UGA early in the season because he can always count on us having a player or five on suspension. There have also been expulsions.
We’ll sidestep the debate for now (though I’m more than willing to have it) over whether that means UGA has a player problem, or quite the opposite: Perhaps we have higher standards for student conduct. If you wish to debate this, please be prepared to refute exhibit A, exhibit B, and exhibit C.
Instead, I’d like to highlight two players from UGA that are doing it right. They are leading on and off the field. And they make me proud as a son of a man that got to go to college at UGA because of a football scholarship of the term “student athlete”.
The first is Senior wide receiver Chris Conley. Lawton wrote a bit about him here earlier in the week for being named to the “Good Works Team”. He’s seems to be the face of the Bulldogs this year in most media events. He’s more polished than most folks that get paid seven figures by ESPN, and clearly has more going on upstairs than the lot of them. He’s also a semi-finalist for the William Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the best scholar athlete in the nation. Good luck to Chris, as he’s clearly already a winner.
Now I’d like you to take a moment (even you Auburn fans) and watch the following about Malcom Mitchell. I hope it changes your day:
“Somebody called me a nerd. That’s not a word that I’m used to hearing,” he said. But he’s more than okay with the label. “I was proud of it… It’s like a badge of honor to me, knowing where I came from.”
Mitchell confessed that when he started college he could only read at about a junior high level, and it bothered him. So he started putting as much effort into his reading game as his football game.
Every free moment, he had a book in his hand. He’s now reading things he never dreamed he could, and although some of the book club selections he would never pick himself, Mitchell seems to enjoy them all.
After everything he’s accomplished, what’s he most proud of?
“I finished the ‘Hunger Games’ series in about two days,” Mitchell said.
Wait, but what about the touchdowns?
“That came natural,” Mitchell said. “That’s a gift. I had to work to read.”
UGA has a culture where winning IS everything. Thus, this should not be construed as an excuse for losing nor an acceptance that we’ll never be considered an elite program because we set our standards too high. Far from it. Our student athletes expect to win and are expected to win ON and off the field. These are high expectations. They are difficult – some may say impossible – to meet. And yet, this is what they are. This is how we compete.
It’s also just important to remember when we gather as a family of 92,000 for our games, what the real game is that our student athletes are playing. When I hear the words from Conley and Mitchell, I know they’re winning – and will continue to do so long after the clock ends on the 4th quarter. I’m proud of them, and I continue to be proud of my school.