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UGA disputes ex-player's claims in waiver battle

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Published in Breaking News
Wednesday, 23 September 2020 08:19

The Georgia athletic department is disputing a former football player's claims that it maintains an "unsafe, unsupportive, or racially insensitive environment."

In a statement posted to social media Tuesday night, former Bulldogs safety Otis Reese wrote that his time on the team "took a devastating mental toll" on him.

"From the first moments I stepped on Campus, it was not what I expected," Reese wrote. "The Racist events that I kept experiencing weighed on me heavily and seemed never ending."

Reese, who transferred to Ole Miss in January, is seeking waivers from the NCAA and SEC to play for the Rebels this season. A junior from Leesburg, Georgia, Reese played in 25 games for the Bulldogs, including all 14 in 2019.

He wrote that when he informed Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart that he was leaving the team on Oct. 4, "I was led to believe by Coach Smart that if I finished the season and not 'Let my team down' as he requested, he would support both my decision to transfer and my request to be immediately eligible."

Reese said he submitted to the NCAA a text message that he purportedly sent to Smart on Oct. 4, which Reese says verifies his plans to leave, and "that I was manipulated to play the very next day, when I truly was at my darkest moment." The Bulldogs beat Tennessee 43-14 on Oct. 5.

"We cannot comment on student-athlete eligibility matters due to federal privacy laws, but we would be happy to share our full response to Otis Reese's waiver request, if he provides a signed release allowing us to do so," the Georgia Athletic Association said in a statement Wednesday. "UGA disputes any suggestion that it maintains an unsafe, unsupportive, or racially insensitive environment."

Some Georgia players, including wide receivers Demetris Robertson and Kearis Jackson, expressed support for Reese's waiver on social media.

In his social media post, Reese wrote that he was "pulled over and harassed by police officers" twice while attending Georgia.

"The first time I was driving alone and the second time I was a passenger in my teammate's car," Reese wrote. "On both occasions the officers were extremely aggressive, accusing us of using drugs and searching the car without any basis and told us they would take us to jail. This type of harassment was a constant discussion around players throughout my time at UGA as many of my teammates were falsely arrested and harassed."

Reese said he was "polite, respectful and compliant" during the encounters with police, incidents which "left me shaken." He indicated he received tickets and citations from the officers. Athens-Clarke County Police records show that Reese was stopped for a distracted driving/hands free violation on Dec. 13, 2018, and paid a $50 fine.

Reese also wrote that he was called a racial slur by a white student-athlete and that another group of white classmates "mocked slavery and pretended to whip each other" while attending Georgia.

"Coach [Lane] Kiffin and Ole Miss have been strong advocates against racism and have put in the work to change perceptions," Reese wrote. "I've seen first-hand what genuine commitment to change looks like in Oxford and I'm excited to be a part of this program. If I was permitted to leave when I attempted last year, I would be eligible to play right now."

Georgia has also opposed an SEC waiver for former starting offensive lineman Cade Mays, who transferred to Tennessee in January. The NCAA granted Mays a waiver last week after initially denying his request, but he still needs one from the conference to play this season. Mays' lawyer called Georgia a "toxic environment."

"Unfortunately, I'm not able to respond to that, so in due time that will play itself out," Smart told reporters Tuesday. "But it's not something I'm allowed to comment on."

In an interview with WJOX-FM in Birmingham, Alabama, on Wednesday morning, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was asked about players like Mays and Reese, who are still waiting for decisions on their intraconference waivers.

"There's a very direct rule that says if you transfer from School A to School B in the SEC, you serve an academic year of residence," Sankey said. "People send in waivers, but one of the questions that should be asked is not what the commissioner is going to do, but why haven't our members voted to change that rule?

"We're inviting people to campus knowing there's a clear rule, and now everyone points and says, 'Well, you need to let people out of that rule.'"

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