When Georgia Football Players Are Accused Of Crimes, This Fixer Shows Up
8:59 AM EDT on June 30, 2023
Followers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent reporting on Georgia football know one name all too well: Bryant Gantt. According to Georgia's website, his official title on coach Kirby Smart's staff is "director of player wellness," though a cursory glance of his bio denotes some, shall we say, non-traditional skills for a member of a college football staff. Previously, according to his own official bio, Gantt worked for 19 years at a law firm in Athens as a legal assistant, investigator, and process server, and his duties include "providing advice and counsel to student-athletes." It seems he has been providing a lot of those services recently.
Let's begin with an AJC story from Feb. 3 by reporter Alan Judd. It covered the night a fatal car crash killed football staff member Chandler LeCroy and player Kevin Willock. (The Ford Expedition driven by LeCroy had been racing another vehicle, driven by Jalen Carter, a standout defensive tackle since drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.) As Judd reported, it was not a police officer who called the Athens police chief to tell him what had happened. It was Gantt. Judd's report called Gantt "an employee of Georgia’s football program who frequently intercedes when players run afoul of the law." Everything you need to know about how Gantt's job works is on display in the following dispatch conversation, first reported by the AJC:
“Bryant Gantt, who is on the coaching staff, is on his way out there,” [Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Jerry] Saulters said about 3:10 a.m. Jan. 15, less than half an hour after the crash. He told the dispatcher to let officers know Gantt was coming, “so they can talk with him and kind of tell him what’s going on.”
“And he does what, exactly?” the dispatcher asked.
“He takes care of all player relations stuff,” Saulters said. “He’ll be out so they can talk to him.”
There's more, so much more that I will get into, but let me add this. It is no secret that dispatch recordings are public records in Georgia. Police chiefs (should) know this—and Saulters said it anyway.
Athens police issued the newspaper a statement insisting, "Nobody has influenced the investigation in any way." But that was far from the first or last time that people would read Gantt's name in a story about Georgia football and law enforcement. Earlier this month, the AJC published a massive investigation dubbed "'Out of control': Reckless culture off the field marks UGA football team." From the report:
Since Kirby Smart became Georgia’s head coach in late 2015, dozens of players have engaged in reckless, often lawless behavior that put them and others in jeopardy: excessive speeding, street racing and driving under the influence, among other offenses. Players have illegally brought weapons onto Georgia’s campus. They’ve gotten into bar fights. They’ve been charged with domestic violence and sexual assault.
But Smart almost always lets athletes continue playing despite their off-field transgressions. Suspensions are unusual, dismissals from the team even rarer.
Gantt's name comes up in this story 23 times, in passages such as:
Gantt contacted court officials on 82 separate legal matters involving players between 2016 and 2023, emails reviewed by the Journal-Constitution show. Some messages read like exchanges between friends, such as when Gantt offered tickets to a Georgia football game to employees of the county solicitor’s office.
Per the report, Gantt often referred to the players as his "knuckleheads" and he's described as a "familiar figure in the Athens-Clarke County courthouse." He at various points in the AJC article is described as covering for a player who misses a court date, checking in on their tickets, getting their fines paid, and at one point was offered a login for the court’s computer system. Like in the prior article, Gantt has a defender; this time Janna Landreth, a longtime deputy solicitor for Athens-Clarke County now in private practice, who explained that Gantt was like a "babysitter" and his services were necessary because "these kids have a lot on their plates."
There was a lot more Judd would uncover. This week, he reported on two cases of Georgia football players accused of sexually assaulting women. In both cases, each time, Gantt appeared. When a young woman reported that Jamaal Jarrett forced her to perform a sex act while he was visiting Athens as a recruit in 2022, she spoke to police and, not too long afterward, the police were talking with Gantt because, per the AJC, the hotel's staff had informed him that police had shown up. Gantt's presence was confirmed by one officer's own body cam. When police did interview Jarrett, Gantt was present and the AJC described it as "a remarkably friendly interrogation at the Athens police headquarters, where the detective investigating the sexual assault allegation spoke of 'my beloved Bulldogs.'"
Athens police closed the case without charges. Jarrett remains with the team.
In 2021, a young woman said linebacker Adam Anderson penetrated her without her consent while she was at his apartment. The woman, who worked part-time in the football office, said she had gone out drinking with some friends then ended up at Anderson's place, where she passed out and woke up to Anderson sexually assaulting her, the AJC reported. The woman told police on the same day, at which point Anderson had joined his teammates for the upcoming Florida-Georgia game, played every year in Jacksonville. The athletic department found out about the investigation a few days later when, per the report, a deputy police chief sent an initial report to—you guessed it—Gantt.
When police talked to future Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens because he reportedly had knowledge of an assault Gantt was there. When Anderson sought to be released on bond, Gantt was there and told the court that Anderson was "humble" and had "great character," the newspaper reported. Smart cut Anderson from the team, and he's currently facing another charge of rape in a separate case. (The university released a lengthy statement to the AJC, saying it considers "any allegation of sexual assault or domestic abuse to be a very serious matter, and we take swift and appropriate action in response to allegations when warranted by law enforcement or internal investigations.")
The woman who said Anderson raped her quit working with the football team. Everyone knew it was her, she said. Her takeaway will feel all too familiar to fans of college football, or any sport, or even anyone who has been employed or overseen by a large institution. They protect themselves. Whenever a football player does anything, she said, “there are people behind the scenes working to sweep that under the rug."