In The End, Meyer Will Make Right Decision

In the uproar about the latest in this what seems to be never-ending saga that involves Avery Atkins --- a story that has rush to judgment fans not only from Florida but in-state rivals saying the kid has to be jettisoned from the program --- there's one small detail that everybody seems to overlook. Well, everybody but Urban Meyer, that is.

Unless you've been practicing to see the world from an ostrich point of view with your head in the sand, then you've probably scanned all the online sites for all the newspapers in the state of Florida and you know all sorts of tidbits of information and details about this latest incident. Avery Atkins is alleged to have struck his girlfriend and mother of his child, Benarah Sanford, multiple times in the face and held her against her will in his car. Serious charges for sure and charges that if proven true will result in Avery being dismissed from the football team at the University of Florida.

Since the charges surfaced about Atkins there have been reports that he wants to transfer to the School Out West and then he doesn't want to transfer anywhere. Next thing, we're told that Meyer is holding him against his will, not letting him transfer out which is what he wants to do more than anything in the world, but of course, that report is followed up by another that says he doesn't want to go anywhere. We have also learned in the last couple of days that Avery's mother and grandmother want him to remain at the University of Florida because they think Avery needs the steadying influence of Urban Meyer and they have asked Meyer to refuse any transfer requests.

This most recent incident is further complicated by Avery's schizophrenic last week of spring practice when he was in Daytona Beach for the birth of his child. First he was going to be back in a day or two, then he wasn't. Then he was going to be back for the final spring practice and he didn't show. There was also a fight in Daytona Beach where Avery was charged with aggravated battery only to have those charges dismissed on April 11 after investigators determined after a month of checking both sides of the story that Atkins had been attacked and was only defending himself against an attacker.

These multiple incidents have led some Gator fans to call for Atkins' immediate dismissal. He's a trouble-maker they say, or even if all the charges are proven incorrect, a magnet for complicated situations. Others say he's an embarrassment to the University of Florida and that alone is reason why Urban Meyer should cut him loose. And there are those that say he wanted to transfer out so get rid of him.

Fans from a couple of Florida's rivals are claiming that if Florida had proven depth at corner back, Urban Meyer would do the holier than thou thing and cut him loose immediately but since he's an extraordinary talent and Florida has no depth behind him, Meyer is a hypocrite and keeping him on the team. On one website, there is that claim that Florida fans have forfeited the right to point fingers at other coaches for a lack of discipline or a slack way of handling tough situations because of the way that Meyer has handled this series of incidents with Avery Atkins.

Fortunately, for all of us, Meyer is his own man and he's not going to bend to pressure from fans, especially from fans of another school. We've seen no rush to judgment on his part nor do we have any indication --- other than Avery Atkins' ever-changing what's going to happen next version of the unfolding events --- of exactly how Meyer is going to handle this. We don't know if Avery is a goner or if he's going to stay because Meyer hasn't shown his hand.

The only thing that Meyer has shown is the kind of patience that you expect and pray for out of your head coach. There is this school of thought out there that coaches have to be swift and sudden with their discipline to send ripples throughout the community of 18-22 year-olds that they supervise and to send a clear message to future members of that community that if you come here, this is the way things are done. That sounds really good when you first hear it because it is a no-nonsense tolerated here attitude, the kind that settles well in Gainesville after the many off-the-field incidents the three previous years before Meyer arrived. The many embarrassing episodes the previous three years have caused an entire portion of Florida fans to adopt a want a cut the problem out now, ask questions later attitude.

Of course, those marvelous, caring fans of some of Florida's most intense rivals are all saying anything but that kind of approach violates Meyer's "one percent of the one percent" statements.

But is it really? Do we really want a coach that reacts robotically, sticking to a single theme that the swift, sudden hand of discipline is always the best? Of course, we don't want a coach that is slack on discipline but shouldn't we expect our coach to be one that isn't swayed one way or the other until he has everything at his disposal to make a mature, thoughtful decision?

After reading all the statements from Avery Atkins and Benarah Sanford both in the police affidavits and in the media this week, I'm not at all sure either one of them has a real grip on the situation nor do I have a clue who initiated the trouble. What I do know is that (1) Avery Atkins is accused of a rather heinous act of domestic violence; (2) Benarah Sanford says in her police statement that she doesn't want to press charges even though she claims he struck her multiple times; (3) the Daytona Beach Police Department didn't make on the spot arrests which the Volusia State Attorney office says would be the case 99 percent of the time if there was physical evidence that supported Sanford's statement of being struck so many times in the face; (4) the Daytona Beach Police Department says this is an ongoing investigation because they really don't know who started things, who hit who, or who is or isn't telling the truth; and (5) just as the DBPD is taking its time to sort things out, so is Urban Meyer.

If evidence is brought forth that proves that Avery initiated the incident and hit the girl, he's gone. You can also bet the ranch that if it's proven that Avery lied to Meyer about what's been going on, he's also a goner.

If it's proven that Avery didn't do it, then he shouldn't be punished for something he didn't do. It's just as hypocritical to say that he should be gone simply because being accused is an embarrassment to the university as it is that he should remain on the team if it's proven that he hit the girl. What kind of signal do you think it sends to the team and to future recruits if you send a kid packing just because he's accused of something that is embarrassing? If he did it, he should go. If he didn't, then he should be allowed to stay.

However, if he is allowed to stay on the team, it probably would be a good idea that he fully understands the very short leash that he is on for the remainder of his career at Florida, or at least until he has grown up enough to understand that there is a consequence --- and often a very serious one --- to every bad choice that you make. When you really think about it, this entire series of episodes with Avery is all about a 19-year-old kid that hasn't made a lot of mature decisions in the last few months.

When I look at this muddled mess, I see a very confused 19-year-old kid that is way over his head in situations that far exceed his maturity level. I've known Avery Atkins for two years and basically he is a sweet-natured, caring young man. On either the first or second time I met Avery, he asked me for advice about how to handle things once he got to the University of Florida. I told him to listen to the people who had his best interests in mind, shut out those that don't and work hard every day in practice and in the classroom to be the best he could be. After every practice since last August, if he sees me, he walks over with a big smile on his face, shakes my hand and tells me he's doing his best to be a better football player and a better student.

That is the Avery Atkins I know. I understand being a confused 19-year-old, too. There are a lot of things I probably said and did when I was 19 that I would love to take back if only I had a chance to relive those moments. I would guess there aren't too many of us that made it all the way to adulthood that didn't have a few experiences like that when they were growing up.

When I had difficult moments when I was 19, I had to face a father who saw things only in black and white. There was right and there was wrong. Fortunately for me, he also was patient enough to understand that you couldn't always see right immediately just as you couldn't always see wrong right off the bat. He waited for situations to play themselves out to the point where everything was transparent and then he made whatever disciplinary decisions he had to make with me. I think back to all the arguments I made in my own defense and wonder how it was that he had the patience to see things through until his choice was obvious.

When he did discipline me, there was always a measure of tough love involved. Even when I was exonerated, there was a measure of tough love that went with that, too. My dad wanted me to grow from every experience, both the tough ones that I had to pay the price for and the ones that I ended up on the right side. He wanted me to understand that getting off the hook was only part of the equation and that seeing a consequence in every action whether good or bad was every bit as important.

Urban Meyer hasn't rushed to judgment with Avery Atkins. Instead he's taking his time to reach a proper conclusion and make a decision that is right for Avery Atkins. If he decides that it's in Avery's best interests to be somewhere else, that decision will be made only when he's got all the facts at his disposal and the facts prove that Avery doesn't belong on this football team. If he decides that Avery will stay, it's probably because he considered more than just the facts. Facts alone can vindicate but they can't determine a kid's heart and what is best in the long run.

There will be a conclusion to this saga and no matter the choice Urban Meyer makes, there will be fans --- both Gator and fans of rival institutions --- that will question his judgment. Just understand one thing, however. He's not trying to win a popularity contest so your opinion, rival fans' opinions and my opinion don't count and will not factor in his decision. What we will end up with is a decision based on all the facts and what is best for both Avery Atkins and the University of Florida football program. That's all we can ask. Now be patient and let Urban Meyer do his job.

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