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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Otis Reese warms up for Georgia before the Bulldogs faced LSU in the SEC title game on Dec. 7, 2019, in Atlanta. Reese, a defensive back, has since transferred to Ole Miss.

Updated with more information at 7:25 p.m. on Sept. 23, 2020.

ATLANTA — Former University of Georgia defensive back Otis Reese said he left the school because of racist treatment on campus, and he also accused coach Kirby Smart of manipulating him to continue playing for the Bulldogs last season after he expressed his intention to transfer.

Reese transferred to Ole Miss in January after two seasons at Georgia and is awaiting an NCAA ruling on his request for a waiver to play immediately for the program in its first season under coach Lane Kiffin.

Georgia, which is ranked fourth in the country and opens the season Saturday at Arkansas, denied the allegations and said it would share its full response to Reese's waiver application if he is granted permission.

Reese posted a statement Tuesday night on Twitter expressing frustration that his waiver had yet to be granted. He addressed it to the NCAA, the Southeastern Conference and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

The player said he decided to transfer because his 1 1/2 years at Georgia "took a devastating mental toll on me. From my first moment I stepped on campus, it was not what I expected. The racist events that I kept experiencing weighed on me heavily and seemed never-ending."

He said he told Smart on Oct. 4, 2019, that he planned to leave Georgia. The Bulldogs were 4-0 at the time and ranked third in the country heading into a game at Tennessee the next day.

"I was led to believe by Coach Smart that if I finished the season and not 'Let my team down' as he requested, he would support both my decision to transfer and my request to be immediately eligible," Reese said.

He added that a copy of the text message he sent to Smart on that day has been forwarded to the NCAA, showing he "was manipulated to play the very next day, when I truly was at my darkest moment."

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AP photo by John Bazemore / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart talks to his players during a home game against Kentucky on Oct. 19, 2019.

Smart declined to comment on Reese's allegations but denied he was standing in the way of him playing right away for Ole Miss, pointing to SEC rules that mandate anyone transferring from one conference school to another must sit out a season.

Another Georgia transfer, offensive lineman Cade Mays, is still awaiting a decision on whether he can play right away for Tennessee.

"If a kid has a better opportunity to play somewhere else, and that's their choice, I want to support that young man," Smart said. "In the SEC, there are rules that are in place about going from one school to another that I'm not really in control of. That's not my decision, and that's not my rule. There are rules that were voted on by the ADs and presidents, and the commissioner has to uphold those.

"There have been many guys we've had who we've supported to play at other places, but within the conference, it's not something that has been a decision for us to make."

Sankey declined to comment on individual cases.

Reese, who is Black, said the racist treatment in Athens included two stops by local police, once when he was driving alone and another time when he was a passenger in a teammate's car.

"On both occasions the officers were extremely aggressive, accusing us of using drugs and searching the car without any basis and told us they would take us to jail," Reese wrote. "This type of harassment was a constant discussion around players throughout my time at UGA as many of my teammates were falsely arrested and harassed."

Reese said he was "polite, respectful, and compliant" during the police stops but still received tickets and citations.

"Both these experiences left me shaken," he said.

Reese said the racist behavior extended to the athletic building, including one of his best friends being called a racial slur by a white athlete.

"Another group of white classmates mocked slavery and pretended to whip each other," he added. "These were two very public events. I didn't want to be part of a campus where my classmates held that kind of hate in their hearts. None of those things were ever addressed by the coaches at UGA. There was literally nobody to speak to about these types of things without having fear of losing your position on the team."

Georgia issued a brief response to Reese's allegations Wednesday.

"We cannot comment on student-athlete eligibility matters due to federal privacy laws, but we would be happy to share our full response to Otis Reese's waiver request, if he provides a signed release allowing us to do so," it said. "UGA disputes any suggestion that it maintains an unsafe, unsupportive, or racially insensitive environment."

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Reese played in 25 games during his time with the Bulldogs, including one start. Last season, he appeared in all 14 games and recorded three tackles.

Ole Miss opens the season by hosting No. 5 Florida on Saturday. In light of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on NCAA regulations, Reese said he can't understand why his waiver has not been granted.

"This season is essentially a free year for all student athletes with no loss of eligibility," he wrote. "I cannot understand why I am being forced to sit back while my teammates are preparing for our first game."

Kiffin said Reese will start for the Rebels if he is cleared to play.

"We've been there to support him. It's been a rough road for him. It still is," Kiffin said. "I know he's frustrated, along with some other players that still don't have responses about whether they can play or not."

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