UF football arrests are piling up

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Column by Jim Clark

By Jim Clark

Sometimes emotions run very high when we consider the people who run our favorite sports teams. One sudden change of fortune can result in a turnaround about how people feel about a certain individual.

It applies to all sports. As a Mets fan, I’m embroiled in discussions about how to fix the problem of losing, with a new GM, a new manager, some new players, etc. It gets pretty heated at times in the online chat rooms.

The nearest big-time athletic program to Ocala is the University of Florida, and particularly its football team. Since Urban Meyer came on the scene a few years ago, he has been looked upon by many around here as some sort of supreme being, one who can do no wrong, bringing two national championships to Gainesville.

All of a sudden, that changed last week.

The occasion was the arrest of running back/wide receiver Chris Rainey of Lakeland. He was accused of texting threats to his girlfriend. It’s a relatively routine, unfortunately, domestic violence case, this time without the violence.

But what made this one stand out is that Rainey’s arrest is the 30th in Meyer’s tenure as Florida football coach. That’s right, 30 in less than six years.

Even his hometown newspaper columnist turned against him. Many people across the nation are accusing him of running a “dirty” program.

I wouldn’t go that far. When I think of a “dirty” program, I think of recruiting violations, Reggie Bush-like players or John Calipari-like coaches. And at Florida, there’s been no evidence of that.

In addition, I feel the problem goes a lot deeper than UF. Let’s face it, a lot of these difficulties don’t suddenly surface. I’m sure if you dig deep, you’ll find that these guys have been close to being in trouble before.

I’ve seen first-hand how budding superstars are treated, particularly in smaller communities. They are coddled by boosters and town officials, many of whom tend to look the other way when there is a violation of some sort.

I’m reminded of Tiger Woods’ apology, in which he said he felt “entitled” to certain things because he was an athletic superstar. I suspect that’s how a lot of these high school stars, about to go to a major college, feel in their hometowns.

When they get to college, many of them find out that they are just another good player and not that special hometown boy any longer. And for some of them who might not have a strong moral background in the first place, it’s hard to take. Good guys like Tim Tebow don’t come along very often.

Meyer reacted strongly to Rainey’s arrest. He said he was upset at the long list of arrests.

Well, coach, if you want to stop those arrests, do a better job of recruiting. Don’t just look at the passing or running statistics. Don’t just look at their tackles or successful blocks. Take a closer look at their background, their upbringing. If it’s legal (and with the NCAA, who knows) ask them, when you or a recruiter visits their home, to invite three of their friends who are not related to the interview. See what type of people they hang around with. Are these the type of people you want hanging around with your football players after they enroll in college?

The fans are also getting tired of the arrests, coach. I’d suggest you do whatever you can to cut them back. Your future could depend on it.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at editor@smcitizen.com or at 352-854-3986.