Hyman: "You are not bulletproof"
After a brief video of USC athletes discussing their experiences over the years and the dangers lurking around every corner, Athletic Director Eric Hyman approached the podium. He introduced himself to a seemingly bored crowd of student-athletes. Their boredom would change to fear as the presentation moved along quickly. Packing a punch with every guest speaker, there was no "sugar-coating" from anyone.
Hyman's most important message was delivered several times over as the afternoon progressed, "You are not invisible. You are not bulletproof."
He showed a picture of a packed Williams-Brice Stadium, looked down at all in attendance and said, "See that picture? That's good and bad news. The good news is that that is 80,000 people who love Gamecock athletics. The bad news is that that's 80,000 people who love Gamecock athletics. My point is this: you are making a transition from high school to the Southeastern Conference. There are very few programs in the country that have this much interest."
Student-athletes stared now as though Hyman had finally caught their attention, at least for the moment. It was the guest speakers, though, who delivered the knock out punches – several of them.
The first speaker brought instant credibility with him to the podium. Not only was he a former college athlete, he was also the father of two current USC athletes. As if this weren't enough, he was also Columbia's Chief of Police.
H. Dean Crisp, father of Gamecock baseball players Andrew and Adam Crisp, took the podium.
Separating himself from the father of student-athletes for the moment, Chief Crisp stared into the crowd and said, "Jail is an ugly place. There are murderers, rapists, drug dealers. You can wind up there quicker than you might imagine."
His points were quick, sharp and most importantly very real examples – most involving USC athletes over the years. Slowly, one could feel the tension in the room heighten. Chief Crisp returned to his seat with a round of applause from the audience. Like a boxer in the first few rounds of a fight, he softened up the opponent with some well executed body blows.
Columbia Defense attorney Leevy Johnson came forward next. His time was spent preaching to student-athletes how to handle an arrest, "Hopefully you are innocent, but even if you are, you must keep your mouth shut. Once you are arrested, you need to exercise your rights – remain silent. If you are innocent, there are plenty of attorneys out there. Trust me."
"Right here where we stand, Williams Brice Stadium, this is a symbol of greatness. Anywhere at this fine University all of you athletes from all sports can achieve greatness." Now pointing south, he continued, "About five miles that way is another significant building. It stands for failure. The Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center is not where you want to make a name for yourself."
With the attention of most fixed on the podium, Hyman and his staff moved in for the proverbial knock out. The most riveting of guests, another former athlete, was introduced. Not in the building to talk sports though, the Fifth Circuit Solicitor and former Gamecock Swimmer, W. Barney Giese took to the podium.
"Those who spoke before me were nice. Not me," he said, "I'm here to scare you."
Although he'd told them his purpose – told them what was coming next, even the biggest student-athletes slouched in their chairs a little.
"I'm the Fifth Circuit Solicitor. I am the prosecutor. If you see me again and it's not in a casual setting – we're enemies," he said, "My job is to convict you of your crime. I've been doing this for 25 years. I'm good at my job."
With the room now filled by a bothersome silence, everyone kept their eyes locked on Giese.
"I'll tell you this and this is fact," he continued, "seventy-five percent of convictions that roll across my desk are drug or alcohol related. Seventy-five percent! You do the math."
Before he sat down, Giese made sure to share the story of Robert Thompson, a former Gamecock football player who was out celebrating after a victory over Georgia. His night was supposed to be celebratory in nature. His life changed quickly that evening, quicker than he'd ever imagine.
"He was high, and he ran a stop light. When the cops flipped their lights on, he decided to try and outrun them. Up and down Whaley Street they went reaching over one hundred miles per hour at one point," said Giese, "He didn't know Whaley Street ended after Pickens. After the curb he went airborne, and when he landed there happened to be a young lady getting out of her car. Robert Thompson cut her in half. I was the prosecutor, and we sent him away for life."
The same bothersome silence was now filled with wide eyes, "Georgia game, partying, life in prison. Just like that."
Through the fear and silence came yet another former Gamecock letterman, The Honorable Casey Manning. Currently a Circuit Court Judge and former Gamecock great, he smiled over the student-athletes before speaking, "If you think you're in trouble when you see Barney Giese, wait until the next time you see me."
He shared a story of a 1973 All-American basketball player at the University of South Carolina. Keeping him nameless, Manning spoke of the inevitable first round selection in the upcoming NBA draft.
"The Warriors were taking him and life was good. After the season he and a friend drove back to New York. There was a tiny bit of marijuana in the ash tray. The cop didn't care," he said as he pointed, "You know, to this day, over thirty years later people still question him when he tries to join an organization or join certain circles. Over thirty years later."
The last speaker was a volunteer. He'd heard about the event and called Eric Hyman to make known his desire to speak. When Coach Tanner walked up on stage, most knew what was coming, but his opening caught everyone off guard.
"You know, when Mr. Hyman talked about the past year at South Carolina, he mentioned two young men on the baseball team that are no longer here. When he mentioned them I heard a few of you laughing," pointing to a particular part of the room, "Shame on you. Shame on you."
His speech was brief as he described one moment, the most powerful, of the days following Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Fuller being kicked off the baseball team. "While these kids were in separate rooms being interrogated, I sat there with both of their mothers. They both had tears streaming down their faces. They are no longer here – and that was my decision, but to see those two mothers. That was bad. Do you want to do that to your mother?"
Given the opportunity to ask questions, only Mark Barnes withstood the peer pressure and raised his hand, "Even if you are with someone who's underage and drinking, can you be arrested?"
Several of the guest speakers jumped to answer, but their message, like Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier's only days before, was clear: "Guilt by Association" is very real. Don't put yourself in that situation.
When the events of the evening ended, Coach Tanner and I met on the escalator. I asked him if last season led to his desire to speak.
"Well, certainly last year added to it, but I've always been an advocate of these kids making good decisions. You know, too many athletes are in an environment where... they are exposed," said Tanner, "Ever since Eric Hyman has been here, he's tried to make that message loud and clear. I feel like anytime this opportunity presents itself, I should be part of it because I'm strong in my conviction."
So time will tell if the evening's effort was a success. Coach Tanner, while addressing the crowd, may have said it best, "You do something great on the field and you're on the front cover of the Sports page. You do something bad, and you're on the front cover. Let me tell you, that's a fair trade off."
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