published Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Wiedmer: Hamilton must address Vols' image problems

The University of Tennessee athletic department is developing an image problem. Possibly a big one.

With Friday's announcement that basketball players Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins were arrested on gun and drug charges following a routine traffic stop near campus, UT is in danger of becoming the new millennium version of 1980s Miami football or 1990s UNLV basketball.

Without the national championship bling, of course.

Not seven weeks after three Big Orange football players were briefly charged with attempted armed robbery -- charges that later forced football coach Lane Kiffin to dismiss freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards -- another embarrassing and troubling incident has slam-dunked Bruce Pearl's hoops program.

What's next? The Valentine's Day release of "Vols Gone Wild"? Orange inmate jumpsuits for men's basketball warm-ups? Turning all those headbands into house arrest monitoring devices?

Beyond that, isn't it time Vols athletic director Mike Hamilton enforces the notion that a UT athletic scholarship is a privilege rather than a right?

Isn't it time that the UT brass -- whether it be Hamilton or officials higher up -- demand that the school's athletes behave in a way that emboldens its alumni and booster base rather than embarrassing them?

Big Orange loyalists can still cling to the argument that the football team's problems were isolated in nature. The incident that sidelined freshman defensive back Jantzen Jackson for two games and rid the program of Richardson and Edwards involved three of 85 scholarship players. Another embarrassment concerning a shoplifting charge against a fourth player still leaves 95 percent of Kiffin's roster untouched by scandal. At least for the moment.

But Smith, Tatum, Williams and Goins make up nearly a third of the scholarship basketball roster. Moreover, Pearl has counted on Smith to lead this team. Instead, the senior captain could now be the leading candidate for dismissal, since he's charged with possessing a firearm with an altered serial number, which is a felony offense but apparently is being treated as a misdemeanor in this case.

Then again, Smith has gotten closer to the NBA than ever before. Or did you miss the early Friday story that Washington Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton (the former Georgia Tech point guard) drew guns on each other inside the Wizards locker room during a Christmas Eve argument over an alleged gambling debt that Arena owed Crittenton?

Gives a whole new meaning to shooting guard, doesn't it?

But regardless of how the law ultimately judges the Vols' Four Flops, this has been an awful autumn for those Big Orange loyalists who believe that college should lift character rather than lower it, however quaint that concept is in today's winning-is-everything culture.

And if two arrests involving firearms in two different sports within seven weeks of each other don't swiftly force big changes in athlete conduct, they should at least demand small changes quickly -- particularly in Pearl's program, which for too long has only half-jokingly portrayed itself as the island of misfit toys.

For starters, get rid of the headbands, the ragged T-shirts under the jerseys and the nine styles of socks on any given game night. Cleanliness may or may not be next to godliness, but whether they like it or not, these guys represent more than themselves and Pearl. They represent the entire University of Tennessee, if not the whole state.

Yes, such a change would take away some individual freedom. But basketball isn't an individual sport. Moreover, almost any attorney will demand that Smith, Tatum and the gang clean up their images before appearing in court. So why not improve their appearances on the court as well?

Finally, get rid of the guns among all athletes, regardless of sport. The right to bear arms also demands responsibility. If you're driving around town stoned with guns under the front seat of your car in the middle of the afternoon, you don't deserve a firearm.

Maybe Hamilton, Pearl or both will come down hard on the Four Flops, and maybe they won't. Maybe the law will administer that tough love before it ever crosses a UT desktop.

But something needs to happen quickly, lest Pearl's island of misfit toys begin to resemble Alcatraz.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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bubbanator21 said...

Apparently you missed the news that the players had been indefinitely suspended. I'm not aware of any of them having prior convictions. Not much anyone can do to prevent this, I noticed your article didn't give any suggestions for preventing illegal behavior by players. You can only kick them off the team, changing their appearance on the court is not going to prevent activity off of it.

January 2, 2010 at 10:44 a.m.
taj said...

Where are the adults who are in charge at this university? Is the university president laughing at LiL Wayne's song about "smoking weed and talking ---- like Lane Kiffin"? Is the chancellor chuckling at the two largest mens programs losing roughly 40% of their scholarship athletes to armed robbery, drug dealing, and weapons violations charges? Who is running this asylum?>

hooverbuc said...

This is about character and intelligence. No one can excuse this type of action. Smith is supposed to be the 'leader'(?) of this team? Yet this 23 year 'leader' is riding around in a car with marijuana and an altered serial number on a weapon. Is anyone going to tell me this guy and his band of followers don't know this is illegal? This about character. At 23 you are no longer a juvenile, a teen. You are a man subject to the rules that go along with it. None of these young men are teenagers, they are adults. Suspending them for one game? We'll see, but a message has to be sent. The real test will be to see how the administration deals with the entire episode. Guns and drugs, hmmm, what a great mix. Gosh what a good example for young people.

January 2, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.
dobby12 said...

It is very evident that UT has a VERY serious problem with personal accountability amonug their male athletes. I think coach Kiffin and Bruce Pearl need to read Pat Summitt's book Reaching the Summitt. There is a responsability to the University of TN. and to your fellow teamates and to your coach and the Great State of TN. It is a honor to play at UT not a give me. I think if your room mate knows your doing someing wrong and doesn't report you when they get caught your both gone. You can police yourselves but it take committment and love for your team and fellow teamates. I think the coaches need to stress that it a privledge to play for UT and it can be gone in a instant. The kid's not only make UT look bad but it is a reflection on the Great state of TN. as a whole. I am not a Nick Saben fan but he started a program last yr. at Ala. to teach personality responsability on commintment to you school,state,coach and teamates . Saben saw so many kids come from inner city and don't have strong disipline becaue so many don't know who the father is or ever had a father figure in their life to teach them disipline and for the results of Ala. football and lack of trouble I think UT needs to start the same program. I know a coach can't watch kids 24/7 but instill personal values in them to their school and team mates and to out state. Saben's realised this need and was the 1st to start a program that does this. UT rep. has taken allot of hits since last yr. and is on the way to becoming the UNLV of the 1990's. I love UT and for yrs. you never heard any negetive press and for the last yr. seems everyday I pick up the paper we ate in trouble. I want UT to win as bad as anyone living but you got to do it with 1st. quality coache's and quality people as players. I think we have GREAT coache's and just need to run a very much tighter ship as far as men's sports are conderned . I think the players need to be told it's the rightway or the highway. I have a son-in-law who played at UT under Fulmer and he say's disipline was very lax when he played. I think Hamilton needs to look at hey we have a problem reaching these young me and do like Saben help them if they will accept help but make it clear you make us look bad and your gone this is a honor to play at UT and if your going to make us look bad you gone and some other school will have you to deal with not UT.

January 2, 2010 at 1:48 p.m.
ApothecaryMark said...

This is not a new phenomenon. There is a website that tracks collegiate players getting into off the field issues called the "Fulmer Cup." Look it up. UT has a long history of criminals representing the program on the field, court, etc. In addition, it should be pointed out that UT recently sullied its image in regards to the "hostesses." (I think a few of the hostesses could star in that "Vols Gone Wild" video!) It is sad all the way around. The fact that Kiffin actually bragged via Twitter about getting in a Lil' Wayne song about smoking weed and running your mouth is pathetic. I think Pearl can be given a little slack. However, the face of the football program is Kiffin, and right now it could use a face-lift.

January 2, 2010 at 2:17 p.m.
Macallanlover said...

Nicely done Mark, it is time some people woke up in Knoxville. Discipline was what brought down the Fulmer regime as too much was swept under the rug, and athletes were protected. Now Kiffin has brought additional embarrassment to the university and he seems to think it is cute. At 34, if he isn't mature enough to know how to conduct himself professionally then Hamilton needs to handle it...he doesn't have that age excuse and his position as AD demands he hold coaches to a higher standard.

If fans are willing to overlook bad behavior just to get wins, or keep players eligible, then they have become no better than the Miami teams of the 80s. Is that really what you want your own kids to see as representative of the standards you have? Really? Hard to get their respect or hold them accountable when you have one set for them, and another for your team(s). Young people are just not that naive.

Thanks also for the comments on how rag-tag the players look when they are allowed to "customize" and show their individuality. And don't forget "tramp gate" with the hostesses that represent the school. The bar needs to be raised in several areas, and the message needs to be sent by the fans right away.

January 2, 2010 at 7:29 p.m.
TrailerParkStud said...

Pathetic! It has all come down to win at all costs. Coach Summitt is the ONLY coach up there who DEMANDS the rules be followed or else. It looks like the inmates are running the asylum. I can't help but wonder if any of these coaches actually took time to explain to these players what the rules are and what is expected of them and that their career will be a short one if they can't adhere to rules of law and university policy. I think UT is trying to be like Miami and USC.

January 5, 2010 at 11:44 p.m.
arcade118 said...

I am sick and tired of everone bashing Pearl. As far as I am aware he has not been accused of running a dirty program where he has coached before, so lay off.

The real sad part of this mess is the four young men perhaps blowing up thier futures with this stupid act.

I can only hope that when the dust and bullsh-t has settled, at least some of the boys can salvage their lives.

I don't like to play the race card but I really doubt that the Knoxville police would have treated the traffic stop the same if it had been four white old ladies that they had stopped. I really think the claim of smelling pot in a car as an excuse of searching without a warrant is a law that should be revised.

This law or lack therof gives far too much leverage to a young officer who doesn't like the appearance of the occupants of a vehicle. This can happen to any of us if the officer so desires and it is hard if not impossible to prove his intent if it is justified or not.

In this case it may have been justified for the officer to act as he did but the power to do as he did is not justified.

January 6, 2010 at 11:45 p.m.

The men's basketball program needs to clean-up it's image and it's play. Headbands, tatoos, and sloppy attire goes along with the sloppy and undisciplined run and gun on-court play (and how's that working for the Tennessee team?) If Bruce Pearl cannot improve the image and the play, then maybe he has done all he can do with this program.

Last time I checked the NCAA Final Four, undisciplined and sloppy run and gun teams were not there. But wait, Kentucky will soon change that.

January 7, 2010 at 10:59 a.m.
Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch Tennessee Volunteers, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.

April 30, 2010 at 1:03 a.m.
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