Spear | Another lesson for Garcia

Time off is best for all involved — and for Garcia, a chance to reflect on mistakes

March 26, 2008 

  • Bob Spear View Bob Spear's columns

    Sports Editor

    bspear@thestate.com
    (803) 771-8406


THE DECISION TO suspend University of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia from all football activities until August is best for all concerned, including the talented athlete with a knack for courting trouble.

If Garcia is going to grow up and understand that with acclaim comes responsibility, he should do it now.

Maybe his ability to throw a football provided an escape route in the past, but surely he will realize he no longer can thumb his nose at authority without suffering consequences.

On the larger scale, the university served noticed that athletes, no matter how important to a program, cannot continually skate away from trouble without facing meaningful disciplinary action.

In a football sense, the team might suffer in terms of talent, but the Gamecocks will finish spring practice and go through the so-called voluntary summer workouts knowing which player will start the season at the most important position. They also will know which teammates can be counted on.

Coach Steve Spurrier said Monday that Garcia’s fate “is out of my hands,” leaving school and athletics department administrators to address the problem.

They did, and they did so in a way that sends a message loud and clear.

Knowing right from wrong. Perhaps Stephen Garcia is a victim of a society and a system that elevate superior athletes to a level beyond comprehension.

They are wined and dined during the recruiting process. They are fawned over by fans thirsting for success in athletics at any cost. The media make them candidates for sainthood before they step onto the field at the next level.

But the accolades and the honors do not relieve the athlete of the responsibility of knowing right from wrong.

Garcia’s run-ins with the law might seem trivial, although damaging an automobile with a key smacks of more than a mischievous prank.

Spurrier’s punishment of Garcia for his arrest last year on charges of drunkenness and failure to stop on police command — an “indefinite” suspension that lasted three days — obviously made no impression.

Less than a month later, Garcia faced charges of vandalizing the car of a USC professor, which drew another “indefinite” suspension that continued through spring practice.

Maybe his throwing footballs during the first spring-practice session during the suspension showed what he thought of authority and suggested Tuesday’s discipline would be inevitable.

A lesson to be learned. What the future holds for Garcia remains to be seen. His football skills require no embellishment, but how much baggage will he carry from his off-the-field difficulties?

He can return to South Carolina in the fall or he can transfer and start with a clean slate at another school.

“We’ll worry about Stephen if he comes back out here,” Spurrier said Monday. “If the university wants him here, we’ll give him another shot.”

Meanwhile, the Gamecocks will prepare for the season with quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher.

“I’m not worried about (Garcia),” Spurrier said after Monday’s practice, with Garcia’s immediate future still in limbo.

Then, he focused on Smelley and Beecher, saying “ ... We know they’re going to always be here. They do everything we ask.”

There is a lot to be said for that attitude, for being there and for following instructions — a lesson Garcia has yet to grasp.

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