I'm the one who caused all the ruckus.
I had no idea on Nov. 27 as I tailgated for the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game that my actions would make headlines across the state and beyond. With a bottle of vodka and some friends in tow, I hopped from tailgate to tailgate and enjoyed a beautiful gameday in the Classic City–the final game of my final year, and the first evening game of a largely lackluster season many Dawg fans would prefer to forget.
As the editor of The Red & Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia, I had been invited to join UGA President Michael Adams in his skybox to watch the game. But I ended up with a situation more stinging than the Tech mascot.
If you had asked me that morning, as I straightened my tie and hurried to Myers Quad to tailgate, if I would bring liquor into Adams' skybox, I would have laughed at the ridiculous proposition. I may enjoy living up to our school's No. 1 party school title, but that's crossing the line. Unfortunately, after a few hours of tailgating with your friends and their families, that line gets somewhat hazy.
I took celebratory vodka shots with fellow seniors while catching up with friends from class. I enjoyed beer with my friends and their families as we played one of the South's most beloved tailgating pastimes: corn hole.
Soon the familiar sounds of coolers closing and empty cans collecting in the trash signaled the transition from carefree tailgating smiles to game faces. I headed up to the skybox with the soon-to-be editor who would succeed me at the semester's end–and, regrettably, some vodka.
Once in the president's box, I had short and friendly conversations with Gov. Sonny Perdue and Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, whom I congratulated on his win after a particularly brutal election season. I spoke with Adams and his gracious wife, Mary. I asked Athens' outgoing mayor how she was feeling after two terms serving Athens.
However, it's not smart to drink in a place such as the university president's skybox, especially after a semester of hard-hitting news stories critical of the very people who invited me to join them. Someone must have smelled the alcohol. I was asked to leave, and the bottle was found.
The spirits I carried in a bottle got me caught up in the spirit of gameday. In hindsight, I am ashamed of this sophomoric decision and wish I could go back and knock some sense into my cloudy mind. But that's something none of us can do, and we are all forced to live with the bad decisions we make.
We all make stupid decisions, especially in college. However, mine was splashed over the front pages and on the websites of some of the most prominent news sources in our society.
Some told me it was karma for my 2 1/2 years with The Red & Black. I wrote, edited and permitted to run countless stories on the illegal activity of others. Although bringing vodka to a football game isn't even comparable to many of the crimes we reported about, I have learned a great deal about journalism.
The lessons I learned while on the other side of a reporter's notebook gave me incredible insight into the mind-set of the people I had so often reported on. I now know what it's like to answer a reporter's phone call with shaky hands. I now know what it's like to have co-workers and friends avert their eyes and ignore you out of worry for their own jobs or reputations. I know what it's like to feel the sting of a newspaper reporter who put his career and potential clip over objectivity and a sincere search for the truth.
This embarrassing and unfortunate incident seems to have overshadowed every story I wrote as I climbed from staff writer to editor-in-chief. I began working at the newspaper as a nobody and ended my career as one of the most powerful students on the University of Georgia campus.
But it appears I threw much of that reputation away with a few swigs of vodka.
Throughout this exhausting ordeal, I have learned just as much as I learned in more than two years of working at The Red & Black and taking classes at UGA's journalism school. I have lost a job and a reputation but have gained a practical sense of journalism.
Perhaps I will have a more difficult time finding work after I graduate in May, but after this incident, it will be much easier to be a better reporter–one who cares more about the search for the truth than getting a good clip through sensationalism.
Now I begin to rebuild the reputation I once had. One story at a time.