The University of Georgia football program has been recognized by the NCAA as one of four winners of its Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Award for 2015-16.
The Bulldogs were awarded the honor because of their first-response care and subsequent support for injured Southern University football player Devon Gales and his family. On Sept. 26, 2015, during the third quarter of Georgia’s game in Athens against Southern, Gales suffered a career-ending spinal injury while blocking on a kickoff return.
UGA’s generosity toward Gales and his family began from the first moments of this tragic event. It still flourishes today, as Gales continues his long road toward rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where his progress has been slow but tangible.
The awards recognize the athletes and administrators who exemplify sportsmanship, one of the core principles of the NCAA. Award winners were selected from nominations submitted to the NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct, which is comprised of 11 representatives from NCAA member institutions.
The 2016 award marks the second such honor for UGA in the past three years. In 2013, women’s tennis player Maho Kowase won the award after she helped to overrule an incorrect scoring call that favored her. The match took place during the team competition of the 2012 NCAA Division I Tennis Championship.
The NCAA announcement reads as follows:
On Sept. 26, 2015, Southern University wide receiver Devon Gales suffered a career-ending spinal injury against the University of Georgia at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.
When Gales went down, the Georgia football team was the first to respond. At that moment, the color of his jersey didn’t matter. Gales’ safety did. In the months that followed, the Georgia football family stood by his side during his recovery, visiting him in the hospital, voicing support on social media and arranging for Gales’ family to fly in from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Claude Felton, the senior associate athletics director at Georgia, nominated the Georgia football team, noting the relationship between Gales and the Bulldogs team, built on mutual respect, that continues to flourish nearly a year after the injury.