TANNER MCEVOY never played an official down of football at South Carolina. Yet the quarterback could leave a lasting impact on the program if USC changes the way it deals with alcohol-related problems for its athletes.
The hope is that USC never responds again to an underage drinking charge — and the admission that McEvoy was driving a vehicle with alcohol in his system — with a laissez faire, boys-will-be-boys attitude.
Underage drinking is illegal. Driving a vehicle with any alcohol in one’s system constitutes a serious lack of good judgment.
According to athletics department policy, the 19-year-old McEvoy immediately was suspended from the football team following his arrest July 29, just across the North Carolina state line in Mecklenberg County. McEvoy was stopped for speeding, then additionally charged with underage drinking after the arresting officer smelled alcohol on McEvoy’s breath.
McEvoy was administered a Breathalyzer test but did not register enough alcohol content to merit a driving under the influence charge. USC and Steve Spurrier allowed McEvoy back on the team, and he participated in the opening practice on Aug. 3 as well as three subsequent practices.
“That could probably happen to 50 percent of (all) college football players in the country, that they have had one beer and (drove),” Spurrier said in his first comment about the arrest to the SportsTalk Radio Network. “Don’t recommend having too many, obviously.”
Spurrier then was informed that North Carolina law bans drivers under the age of 21 from operating a vehicle if they have any alcohol in their bloodstream. Spurrier responded:
“Tanner got a speeding ticket, and the guy said, ‘Have you had a beer? And he said, ‘Yes sir, I had one, maybe two.’ It was not a DUI. Tanner was guilty of speeding, and he was guilty of (underage drinking), too. He had a beer up there around Charlotte somewhere.”
Spurrier’s comments drew the ire of Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Council and legislative liaison for S.C. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
“I’m just surprised at that reaction,” Hudson said. “I guess there is probably no subject that has been researched as well as why we have 21 as a legal purchase of possession age. Developing bodies and developing brains do not do well with the addition of alcohol. ...
“I’m appalled at that attitude. Yes, I think (McEvoy) should be suspended. If you don’t do that with one who so obviously has been caught by law enforcement, then what kind of message are you sending to the rest of young people who are under 21? I’m so disappointed that that is (Spurrier’s) attitude.”
Upon hearing Spurrier’s comments, USC athletics director Ray Tanner supported his coach.
“I think that was misinterpreted,” Tanner said. “I know that he doesn’t condone drinking and driving. That’s ludicrous for somebody to think he feels that way. I think that was misunderstood.”
While admirable that Tanner would stand behind his coach, there was nothing misunderstood about Spurrier’s comments. In fact, Spurrier repeated his comments following the Aug. 3 practice session when asked if McEvoy’s arrest merited further suspension.
“You want me to suspend him for having a beer and he’s underage?” he said. “How many football players would be playing if they had a beer and were underage?”
Instead of being misunderstood, what Spurrier’s comments did was underscore what might be a blind spot with the head coach when it comes to dealing with alcohol-related problems. An assistant coach’s off-field alcohol-related problems didn’t result in any missed practices or games. And there was the fiasco of a former quarterback who survived one alcohol-related incident after another to remain on the team.
It could be that Spurrier is simply an old-school coach, one who believes alcohol is part of the college environment and among college athletes. It could also be that Spurrier continues to fail to realize that alcohol is a drug.
Fortunately, the day has long since passed when alcohol is accepted as an excuse for unacceptable and illegal behavior. Underage drinking is illegal. Operating a vehicle with alcohol in one’s system is no longer acceptable.
That is why much can be learned from the McEvoy incident. The young man likely has learned the harsh reality of making poor decisions. He elected to transfer to another school.
USC also can learn one valuable lesson. When the next alcohol-related incident involving an athlete occurs — and it will — USC and its football coach need to act swiftly and without reservation to dole out public punishments.
Then when you hear Spurrier’s public service announcement on behalf of the S.C. Beer Wholesalers Association — “I want all Gamecock fans to be on my team fighting irresponsible and illegal drinking ... If you are under 21, drinking alcohol is against the law. Let’s do our part to stop irresponsible and illegal drinking.” — there will be nomisunderstanding.
You will know he, and by extension USC, means it.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)