Underage drinking citations should be part of any University of Tennessee student's college experience. They're no big deal - usually just another funny story to tell the grandkids.
Note to UT wide receiver James Banks: You're not a student ... you're a scholarship student-athlete. Don't be surprised if your future grandchildren don't want to listen to their grandfather's story about wasting away his chance at achieving greatness in college athletics.
When Banks signed with Tennessee over two years ago, he committed part of his college experience to the football program and promised not to jeopardize the integrity of his student-athlete status.
Volunteer fans are more than willing to pay for the rising junior's education because his hands can catch a deflected Hail Mary in the end zone as the first half expires in The Swamp. His hands snatched the most receptions of any Vol last season (42 catches for 621 yards).
At 3 a.m. Friday, though, police officers said those magical hands were behind the wheel of a car with an opened alcoholic beverage on the passenger floor.
According to the police report, employees from the Rocky Top Market on the Strip complained about an unruly group of up to 50 people gathering in their parking lot. While police tried to break up the crowd, Banks reportedly continued to blast music from the car he was sitting in.
Despite Banks' negligence, the police did not give the student-athlete a sobriety test or arrest him for operating a vehicle containing an open container of alcohol (although the car was not running, Tennessee law still considers this an offense). All Banks received were citations for underage drinking and for violating the city's noise ordinance.
Police told the passenger in the car to drive Banks home, whose 21st birthday is Aug. 14.
The kickoff to the 2004 season is just six weeks away. While UT students are already starting to "pre-game" on the Strip, the football players' summer preparation occurs mainly in the weight room.
Obviously one 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete forgot his role at Tennessee.
Even college football's most player-friendly coach is growing tired of Banks' team-weakening behavior. After sidelining his clutch wide receiver for violating team rules during the first half of last season's disaster in the Peach Bowl, Coach Phillip Fulmer then suspended Banks for all of spring practice.
Since the spring but before the incident early Friday morning, I actually heard some of the Vols brag about Banks' new-found commitment to the team. Although Fulmer still officially had Banks on suspension, I was envisioning how successful next season could be if UT's best all-around athlete cared about more than just himself.
I love to watch wide receivers take over a game. The moment that sealed my decision to enroll at UT came when I watched Kelly Washington rack up almost 300 yards receiving against LSU in 2001 (both my first game at Neyland Stadium and my first trip to the state of Tennessee).
Unfortunately, during my first season as a student (2002), I had to watch Washington alienate himself from his team and his fans. "The Future" (as he called himself that year) turned out to be "The Disease" that led to a dismal 8-5 season.
Washington may have been the most gifted athlete to ever suit up as a Vol, but now the NFL receiver (Cincinnati Bengals) is remembered throughout East Tennessee as the player whose selfish attitude spread among his teammates like a virus.
Does Banks care what impression he leaves in Knoxville?
Regardless of how Banks acts at UT, the NFL will come calling for the Indianapolis native because of his tricky feet and clutch hands.
But what happens when a 300-pound NFL linebacker blindsides and ends the career of Banks (who during his sophomore year was often lackadaisical during plays not designed for him to catch the ball)?
Whichever pro team he is with at the time will erase his name from memory, and Banks seem likely blow all his future earnings at clubs within a month.
As things stand right now, even Banks' college coach is wondering if his team would be better off by simply flushing "The Distraction."
The bridge that connecting Banks to UT is on fire.
Excuse me, Banks, if my final plea for you to find the lost pieces of your brain sounds like a UT football cliche.
But why can't you act more like Peyton Manning?
Think about it, Banks ... if Manning's NFL career ended today, he could be mayor of Knoxville tomorrow.
I wonder ... if something happens today and Banks is no longer able to run and catch a football, will it bother him ten years down the road when UT's future generations start to laugh at the ex-football player still wasting away his nights drinking on the Strip?
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at mgiles@utk.edu.