Friday, September 21, 2007

PULPWOOD SMITH, PART TWO from Nov. 2005 by Robert Preston, Jr.

Is the time right for Pulpwood?

Robert Preston, Jr.

Douglas Daily News

DOUGLAS — So Pulpwood Smith is alive and well, living in an apartment in Sandy Springs. That's very different from the various rumors that continue to circulate the community in reference to the former football and baseball star.

You're probably wondering what kind of neighborhood he lives in. Pulpwood lives in an economically depressed area, and his apartment isn't government housing. He doesn't venture very far from his neighborhood, staying within a few blocks of his home. He often eats breakfast at a nearby Days Inn.

Miriam Holland and I pulled up to Pulpwood's apartment in my vehicle. Prior to last Thursday, I had never met Pulpwood; I was 10 years old during the 1982 football season. But when I saw him, I recognized him immediately. He looks remarkably similar to the pictures I've seen of him taken 23 years ago.

As Pulpwood spoke, it became quite clear that he knows exactly what could have been. He knows that had he done things just a little differently, he would be in a very different place than he is in right now.

He also never tried to shift the responsibility for his life. One of the last things he said to me, words that are quoted in the front page story in today's edition, were, "I regret that I'm not a completer."

He didn't say, "I regret that I listened to all those other folks and took their advice, because they cost me my career." He accepts the blame for the choices he's made.

His story is one of unfulfilled potential. It's really sad to see Pulpwood where he is. He should have been in the NFL. He should be a retired running back, drawing a pension and coming back home to Douglas a few times of a year to put on football and baseball clinics for the youth of the community.

But that isn't where he is. He's tucked away in Atlanta, seldom venturing outside of his neighborhood, much less leaving the metro area to visit home.

I'm quite sure people are chomping at the bit to learn of Pulpwood's criminal history. Is he on drugs? Has he been in prison recently?

I have done a search of Pulpwood's criminal record, and we have discussed his record in this space before. Other than what was previously covered, I know nothing of his record, except that he was cited about six weeks ago for a misdemeanor in his neighborhood. Officers wrote Pulpwood a ticket and let him go. He wasn't incarcerated, and it wasn't a drug offense. An officer gave me a case number, but did not tell me exactly what the charge was.

Other than that, I am ignorant of his criminal history.

As far as drugs go, I didn't see any drug-related paraphernalia in his apartment, and he didn't act as though he was under the influence of any substances when we spoke. He didn't tell me he was a user, and I didn't ask.

After visiting with him, I believe he has something to offer a community. He has a family, a son whose future on the playing field looks bright. Maybe with the right kind of guidance, he can avoid the pitfalls that snared his father.

Can Pulpwood provide that guidance? I don't know the relationship he has with his son, but it's certainly a very real possibility.

People want to vilify Pulpwood. I think I know why. A lot of people went out on a limb to help him, and he didn't deliver. He specifically mentioned the Andersons and the Tanners during our conversation, but I know there were others who assisted him. Coach Royal and his family, of course, along with the Gene Wade family, the late Frank Sparks, Walter Huckaby and countless others among the Bulldog faithful tried to help him.

Their help wasn't enough.

But Pulpwood's life isn't over. There are a lot of people, myself included, who would like to see him return to the community and use his experiences to help others avoid his mistakes.

I may have on my rose-colored glasses and people may snicker at this, but I think it's a real possibility. Pulpwood has expressed to others his interest in bettering himself. Maybe now, 21 years after leaving UGA, the time is right.

No comments: