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Preventing Crime In College Sports

In 2007, I tried to make the claim that Ronnie Wilson's Iraqi-style gun play was fine by me because I'd rather have a player get in trouble for a fight than drugs. A year later, that is exactly what happened.

Ronnie Wilson and Carl Johnson exist at every school. So does Stephen Locke. If you don't know Locke's story, don't worry, he isn't a basketball or football player. Just a senior Gators pitcher who was 5-2 last year in 12 starts with a 3.17 ERA. Sorry, he was a Gator. He was kicked off the team for a DUI a few weeks ago, ending his college career.

Locke is not supposed to be in the same thought as Wilson and Johnson. But criminal decisions cross the boundaries of sports, race and economic standing. The actions of these three student-athletes have forever altered their careers and quite possibly ended any hope of professional athletics. But all of this could have been prevented.

Most universities take the health of their students very seriously. This includes mental health. At Florida, any student has the option of seeing a psychiatrist free of charge. This option is fairly well known and students take advantage of it. Some of them are not willing to do it, but are better off for it. Athletes often reject these services or never consider them, leaving "normies" as the only students who can benefit from this service.

I mention this because I truly believe if Florida conduced a better screening process when an athlete comes to Gainesville, these problems would have not happened. The actions of Wilson, Johnson and Locke are not one time things. Beating up women and driving drunk are different crimes, but both happen because the person thinks they can get away with it or because they don't respect their peers. That is not the thought process of an adult.

College coaches make the assumption they are recruiting grown men and women, but in the crucible of a college town, maturity means nothing because it is the first time (for many) alone from home. No one can predict how they will react. A lot of us thought college was like high school; until we realized we lived in the same building as 500 hot chicks and 5000 feet from free beer. Add that to the stress of school and the stress of sports, it's not surprising some athletes fall off the wagon.

All schools, from Florida to USC, have to do a better job of understanding which athletes might get in trouble one day. The only way to do that is a serious commitment to mental health, even if there is a stigma that it is only crazy people or "emo" people who need it. A goal of wanting to "shoot and kill someone," as Johnson's accuser has said of him, would be caught in a few sessions. If you wait until they show signs of mental stress, it could be too late.

The NCAA has done a very good job making academics important again, even if their formulas for assessing performance are off. But producing successful citizens goes beyond making sure they earn enough C-pluses to stay on the court or field. Committing to mental health will not just prevent criminal actions but also set up student-athletes for a career beyond athletics.