During every summer, I’m often approached by fans and asked how the football team is doing. There are, of course, all of the quotes that come in about how everyone is getting bigger and stronger for the new season, but I almost always respond to the questions in the same way.
When it comes to the offseason, no news is good news.
If there’s something that grabs headlines ahead of fall camp, it almost always has to do with an injury, eligibility issues or a run-in with the cops.
Georgia Southern fans had those worst fears realized last week as — just minutes before the opening of fall camp — the team made an announcement that starting quarterback Shai Werts was suspended from all football activities following an arrest for speeding and possession of cocaine.
A whirlwind 72 hours followed, and while some things seem much brighter for those hoping to see Werts in action soon, there is also a lot of information that all parties are waiting on.
Georgia Southern made its initial comment on the arrest, but won’t divulge anything more as it is an ongoing legal case. As things currently stand, here is what is known about the situation:
- Werts was arrested on July 31 after speeding near Saluda, S.C. He was placed under arrest soon after the police got him out of the car.
-While Werts was detained, he was asked about a white substance found on the car hood. He claimed it was bird droppings that he had tried to remove days before. Two separate field test kits returned positive results for cocaine and a charge for possession of less than one gram (a misdemeanor) was added to the initial speeding charge.
- Werts maintained his stance on not knowing where the substance came from. He was bonded out of jail and - upon returning to Statesboro - submitted to a drug screening on Friday, Aug. 2. Werts passed the screening and returned to practice with the team on Sunday morning.
- No additional information has been released by the Saluda Sheriff's department and no official update has been given on Werts’ standing with the team. Georgia Southern has maintained that it will proceed by guidelines consistent with the school’s student code of conduct.
So Werts’ situation seems to have improved at least a bit, but now comes the tough part. The legal system can be notoriously slow and - without more information to go by - anyone with an interest in the situation is left to do their best armchair lawyering.
One side will want to know how that substance got on a car if additional tests confirm it to be cocaine. There will also be questions about Werts’ admission to initially exiting the highway when the officer turned to follow him, even if it’s not a crime to make a turn if the officer isn’t identifying himself or attempting to pull you over.
At the very least, there is a question about why the quarterback and emotional leader of an FBS football team is doing 80 miles per hour through a small town just hours before he’s supposed to be in camp.
But there is also a burden of proof.
The report describes Werts and the inside of his car as looking clean. There is also the fact that his screening came up clean and his continued insistence that he wasn’t in possession of anything illegal.
As for now, it would appear that the most boring answer is likely the closest we have to the truth.
There are questions and evidence on both sides. There isn’t enough for the police to press the issue at the moment, but there’s also not enough exonerating information to drop the matter entirely.
The cliche always tells sports fans that there’s a reason they play the games. Frustrating as things are at the moment, that’s also why everyone needs to take a moment and let this issue play out in official legal action instead of social media yelling and rogue internet sleuthing.