Player Learns A Painful Lesson

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the problems facing linebacker Lemarcus Rowell.

Auburn's football team's quiet summer was shattered over the weekend. Another college football player learned a painful lesson.

You've surely read by now that sophomore linebacker Lemarcus Rowell was arrested at 2:45 a.m. Sunday. He was stopped for speeding on Pepperell Parkway in Opelika, but things got worse in a hurry. He was eventually charged with DUI, possession of a small amount of marijuana and carrying a pistol without a permit. Before the day is over, there will no doubt be an announcement that Rowell has been suspended from Auburn's football team.

Rowell, assuming he is guilty, let a lot of people down. He let down his family, who must deal with embarrassment and with the uncertainty and expense that comes from legal problems. He let down his teammates, who didn't need something like this as they prepare for what could be a championship season. He let down little boys in Opelika who wear his number and dream of being like him.

Most of all, he let himself down.

Lemarcus Rowell

I'm not about to label Rowell, who is 20 years old, a bad person or a criminal. As far as I know, he has not been in legal trouble before. A lot of us have made similar mistakes or even worse. The charges are misdemeanors. Though he technically could do jail time, it's safe to say he won't. Had Rowell been just another college student, the incident would have rated a paragraph in the newspaper, if that. Few would have paid attention. But Rowell is not just another college student. He is an Auburn football player. That makes him different. Coaches spend a lot of time making sure players understand that. If you are an athlete at Auburn or any other prominent school, you are being watched. If you mess up, the world will know.

The old saying goes that to whom much is given much is expected. Rowell has athletic ability most of us only dream of. He has the kind of ability that gives him an opportunity to provide lifetime financial security for him and his family. Not drinking and driving, not having marijuana in your car and not carrying a handgun doesn't seem like too much of a price to pay for that kind of gift.

For Rowell, the real question now is how he responds. Unless there have been other discipline problems of which I am unaware, I would be surprised if this incident causes Rowell to be permanently dismissed from the Auburn football team. He will certainly be suspended, maybe for a long time. He will be required to get counseling. A cloud will hang over him that will be hard to remove. Even if he should be dismissed from the Auburn football team, rest assured there would be a long line of other schools waiting to hand him a scholarship. If he takes his punishment and learns from his mistakes, he can be a better man and a better athlete for having gone through it.

If he feels sorry for himself and denies obvious problems, he will be heading down a road filled with the broken dreams of countless others for whom great athletic ability proved to be a ticket to nowhere. What happens now really won't be decided by the courts. It won't be decided by Tuberville or linebackers coach Joe Whitt. It will be decided by Lemarcus Rowell. No challenge he faced on the football field was ever tougher than this one. How he answers that challenge will have an impact on his life for years to come. I hope he answers it with resolve to come back stronger and better than ever. We shall see.

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