Do you really care about Antonio Callaway?
I don’t mean do you enjoy watching the fourth down miracle against Tennessee on YouTube? Nor do I mean do you enjoy watching at least one player on the Gators offense who is on-par with anybody in the country? I mean, do you care about whether he succeeds in life after leaving the University of Florida (insert Butch Jones joke here)?
Because if you do then you shouldn’t support Jim McElwain making a decision to suspend Callaway against Michigan.
Callaway certainly did multiple things wrong early Saturday night when he was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession. He was riding without wearing a seatbelt. He was riding in the car of a 40-year-old man with a long rap sheet that includes charges of child molestation and drug trafficking, among others. And of course, he was in possession of multiple grams of pot.
He also has shown lapses in judgment previously. The most prominent of these was the Title IX hearing where Callaway defended himself against sexual assault allegations. His excuse? That he was, “so stoned I had no interest in having sex with anyone.”
I’ve called for Jim McElwain to hold his players accountable repeatedly. That lack of accountability has led to mistakes that have been responsible for killing many offensive drives, turning the Gators offense from below average to a laughingstock. Callaway has been responsible for multiple inexcusable false starts that have put the offense in a hole. He should have been pulled from the field for those mistakes.
But not for this.
The question here is not whether Callaway did something wrong. He clearly did. The question is now that we know about it, what is the best way to help him?
The knee-jerk reaction is to take football away in the form of a suspension against Michigan. That will make sports columnists and fans feel like justice has been served. But I fear that it doesn’t do anything but make us feel better about ourselves and our program when the question should be whether it actually helps Antonio Callaway?
Years of scientific research indicates that it likely does not. Drug addiction has been classified as a disease for many years. And unfortunately it is a disease that gets treated infrequently. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that only 14 percent of addicts seek treatment. Many times this is because society chooses to treat drug addiction with punitive measures rather than with treatment.
I should be clear that I have no idea whether Callaway is an addict, nor am I a medical professional. But I was a college kid once. And I can assure you that I would have known I had a major substance issue had I become so inebriated that I lost all interest in having sex.
Gator fans recently have been forced to make sense of the life and death of Aaron Hernandez. It’s indisputable that the record of the 40-year-old Callaway was riding with, Kendrick Williams, is bad. But it also should be noted his record is significantly worse than Ernest Wallace, a 41-year-old accomplice to Hernandez during the murder of Odin Lloyd.
Hernandez dropped in the 2010 draft because of his marijuana use. A longtime NFL executive was quoted as saying, “He had multiple positive (marijuana) tests, so he either had issues or is dumb. One or two tests? Fine. But four, five, six? Come on, now you’ve got an addiction. He’s not a bad kid. He just has an issue.”
Could Florida have done more for Hernandez? I have no idea. But I do know that his mysterious suspensions against Hawaii and FIU didn’t deter his substance abuse.
I’m not suggesting that Callaway will turn out like Hernandez. Nor am I suggesting that Callaway should face no consequences. I am suggesting that without knowing his mental health status, there is no possible way that anyone can know the best course of action for him.
And so I believe that a team-independent, licensed health care professional – and not a football coach – should be evaluating Callaway and recommending the path forward. If the best course – as recommended by that professional – is a suspension, I will support it wholeheartedly.
Jim McElwain has a go-to quote when discussing drug suspensions. “We have freedom of choice. We certainly don’t have freedom from consequence.” But the definition of an addict is a loss of control when it comes to that substance.
And if Callaway is an addict, to suspend him because it sends a message to the team is vindictive. It also sends the wrong message. If another player is struggling with an addiction, can they come forward? Or are they going to be penalized?
Besides, Callaway is not an inanimate object to be used to ensure that other players don’t step out of line. Any decision that the administration makes shouldn’t even consider the team.
Instead, that decision should be grounded in ensuring that Antonio Callaway matters more to the University of Florida as a person than a football player.