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Friday Forum: What should Florida do about its suspended players?

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Nine young men allegedly made some spectacularly dumb decisions. Now what?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators will be without nine players suspended back in August for their role in an alleged spate of credit card fraud on Saturday against Vanderbilt, and will remain without them for the forseeable future, as those players have now all been named in sworn complaints filed this week that could presage felony charges some of all of them.

Jim McElwain has told reporters repeatedly that he had no updates on those players’ indefinite suspensions, and gave only oblique, if telling, lip service to what could change about their status if felony charges are brought. But exactly what will happen as the legal system decides how to best prosecute — or not prosecute — those Gators is still up in the air, as State Attorney William (Bill) Cervone weighs the evidence against them and his imperatives as a prosecutor over the coming days or weeks.

And that leaves us to ponder what should happen, in today’s Friday Forum.

Freedom of choice, not freedom from consequence

The suspended players should have no place in the Florida football program — now, and in the future.

The players, while still “young and stupid,” are free to choose. And they clearly exercised their freedom of choice. But they cannot be free from the consequences of those very poor choices, and one of those consequences should be dismissal.

In this case, I think it’s important for Jim McElwain, Scott Stricklin, and the Florida administration as a whole to set a precedent. Players need to understand that, regardless of the size or dimensions of their roles on the team, no one can get away with committing a felony.

That's important to emphasize: The crimes these nine players have been charged with are felonies. I’ve seen countless people saying they were just being “typical” dumb college kids. I beg to differ: I knew plenty of dumb college kids in my day — I was one of them, at times — and scheming to commit credit card fraud is beyond the scope of “typical” mistakes I witnessed during my seven years (yes, seven whole years) in Gainesville. Mistakes happen, sure, but this incident seems to be more of a deliberate choice — and the misdeeds alleged are incredibly serious, especially compared to choices like underage drinking or smoking marijuana, which, while illegal and frowned upon, are also crimes without victims.

I hate to bring the idea of public image into an argument about altering the lives of these players forever, but I must. This case has been highly publicized over the past month, and has brought a lot of criticism regarding the discipline of Florida’s players, both past and present. While the administration cannot undo what Urban Meyer did during his tenure as head coach, it can move forward. The administration can take a strong stance of zero tolerance for such serious crimes and begin to restore the athletic program’s image.

— Kristen Botica

And yet: What’s best for these young men?

Whatever happened to compel nine Florida players to allegedly use credit card numbers that weren’t their own is something that, at minimum, those players should have known better to avoid. Like Kristen, I was once young(er) and dumb(er) and a college student in Gainesville, and I managed to avoid ever using someone else’s credit card to get something I wanted.

I also picked up one wallet that wasn’t mine in a parking lot, tried to find its owner on Facebook, and eventually gave it to a cop, unsolicited. And I once picked up a stray $100 bill from the ground in the Oaks Mall and brought it to the nearest counter. When it comes to money that isn’t mine, I am a painfully straight arrow.

But I know I’ve been that way largely because I have never really gone without things I need, or even things I want, because of a lack of money. My family isn’t wealthy, or rich, but I’ve had a middle-class existence for much of my cognizance, thanks to my parents building that foundation for me and my siblings. I didn’t have to work in high school — I tutored some, and mowed lawns on occasion, but I didn’t have to do that — and so I had the time to do homework and get good grades and excel in extracurricular activities, like appearing on JEOPARDY! once upon a time. And that, in turn, helped get me a fantastic array of scholarships to go to Florida, ones that covered my cost of attendance and then some, even though I have always lived fairly frugally.

And that good fortune still didn’t preclude me from working while in college — which I did, and have done, from the beginning of my third year in Gainesville onward — like an athletic scholarship prevents Jordan Scarlett or Kadeem Telfort from doing. And my (part-time pay, but sometimes full-time thought) gigs in sports blogging were far less stressful and taxing, physically and mentally, than the work of playing a sport and being a student that merits an athletic scholarship.

And as I’ve continued to work part-time gigs, including penurious ones, in my adult life, my parents have helped me, then and now — as is, I suspect, true for many, many millennials — I have still been buffered from the sort of need and want that come with poverty of both money and opportunity.

I’ve worked to make some of my good fortune happen, of course. But the facts of my life are all in part the residue of privilege, privilege that dates back beyond my parents to their parents, and my grandparents’ parents before them. And I’ve never been in a position where putting $22.82 on a credit card that isn’t mine for a delivery order of snacks or transferring nearly $2,000 to my UF Bookstore account for the purpose of buying a laptop made sense to me partly because I’ve always been able to buy snacks ahead of time, at Publix, for cheaper, and have a laptop — and/or the spending money that a laptop sold on Craigslist would represent, say — available to me.

So I can’t say that I would have made better decisions than these nine suspended players, because I have literally never been where they are. I’ve never, like Scarlett, told a cop that I needed money and had gotten some from an agent, using a credit card number that wasn’t mine to get it because I thought I could get away with it — and that’s partly because I’ve never needed money, not really.

And so I can’t say I know what I want to happen to these players in the context of their Florida careers.

I wouldn’t be upset if they never played for Florida again; I don’t know that I would be upset if they would. I think they should and will face legal punishment for their alleged crimes, but I also think that they may well largely skate if they can turn over whomever gave them the idea and the means to pull off this fraud. I suspect Huntley Johnson’s involvement in the cases of Scarlett and Antonio Callaway, at least, foretells the most positive possible legal fallout for those two players, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see similarly positive resolutions for everyone other than Jordan Smith and Telfort, whose alleged fraud was less contained.

I don’t, though, know what I think should be their fates, except for this part: I want what’s best for them. I want them to figure life the hell out, and for them to make the most of their days on this Earth in ways that don’t injure others.

And I don’t know how they get there from here — but if that path diverges from Florida football, so be it.

— Andy Hutchins