League, teams, union must solve problem of drunk driving by NFL players

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It has been only a week, though it seems much longer that, since Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his child and then himself.  This Saturday, another tragedy unfolded for a different NFL team, under very different circumstances.

Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent allegedly got drunk, allegedly drove his car while drunk, crashed it, and killed practice-squad linebacker Jerry Brown.

It’s not the first time an NFL player has claimed a life while driving a car; it’s the first we can recall involving a victim who also was an NFL player.

In the case of Brent and Brown, they were teammates both at Illinois and in Dallas.  Reportedly, they currently were roommates.

While the Cowboys and the rest of the NFL mourn the passing of Brown, Brent is entitled to the presumption of innocence.  If/when Brent pleads guilty or is convicted, he deserves to face the consequences.

One of the major objectives of the justice system is deterrence.  Even now, after three decades of increased sensitivity to the dangers of drunk driving and heightened punishment for those who do it, people still consume alcohol and then get behind the wheel of large steel machines that can cause significant damage, mayhem, and death.

When it comes to NFL players. the rest of us will continue to be confounded by their failure to take advantage of team- and/or union-provided car services that will get them home without danger to themselves or, more importantly, to anyone else.

Since it will be impossible and unrealistic to convert 1,700 young athletes into teetotalers, the league and the NFLPA should acknowledge the reality of the situation and do more to educate players on the importance of understanding when they need to press the button on their phones that will bring them a sober driver, no questions asked.

Whatever the NFL is currently doing, it’s not working.  It’s time for the league office, the teams, and the players’ union to work together for a permanent, reliable, and effective solution.

34 responses to “League, teams, union must solve problem of drunk driving by NFL players

  1. While tragic, both were college educated and adults. If they couldn’t make the decision to sober up or call a taxi, no amount of DUI specific education was going to stop them.

  2. Good of you to point out that the league, union, and players all need to work together to solve this. It will take all three of them rowing in the same boat for a change…

    from player selection, to culture change, intervention and sobriety assistance, it won’t be easy, but needs to happen.

  3. The NFL culture needs a makeover. The teams have the players lying about injuries and concussions so it is easy for the players to lie about being drunk. If you repeat a lie long enough then some people will believe it like Fox news and some Republicians do. Players will not be truthful about themselves similiar to how the NFL is not truthful about their knowledge of the impact concussions have on the players.
    You have to do alot more than get rid of the kickoff to eliminate concussions but first, try eliminating the lying culture in the NFL. Eliminating the lying culture in the NFL must start with Roger Goodell.
    The truth will make you free.

  4. I’m all for more education and activism on drunken driving. I, like probably many reading, have lost people i care about to the problem. However, none of it is going to do much to change the situation. Fact is, everyone of adult age who drinks knows full well the dangers of getting behind the wheel drunk. Humans make poor enough choices as it is, and adding alcohol to he mix just makes the chances of “I’m good to go” being the final word out of some drunk guy’s mouth at bar close. Drunken driving will continue to occur, and it will continue to occur among all walks of life, incluing the NFL. Ain’t a thing that can be done to eradicate it.

  5. “While the Cowboys and the rest of the NFL mourn the passing of Brown, Brent is entitled to the presumption of innocence.”

    He is entitled to the presumption of innocence in a court of law — not in the court of public opinion.

  6. The problem is that anything the league wants to do the NFLPA will shoot down.

    Teams want to have free rides for their players that the team pays for? NFLPA shoots it down because the teams ‘might’ get concerned about player’s habits.

    NFL hires player development personnel (usually a former player) to help players with personal issues. NFLPA tells players not to trust them because they’re working for the NFL and will squeal on the players.

    NFL wants increased penalties to deter future irresponsible use, NFLPA defends the players who get drunk and kill people (Leonard Little says hi).

    Maybe now that someone has killed one of the union’s own they will stop protecting their own criminals, but it’s unlikely.

  7. ” the importance of understanding when they need to press the button on their phones that will bring them a sober driver, no questions asked.”

    When someone decides to drive to the bar, stop for a drink on the way home from work, etc., they’ve already made a sober (presumably) decision to drink and drive. If someone can’t make a good decision while sober, they sure aren’t going to make one after having a drink(s).

    I tell by nephew all the time, “No drinking and driving. And no getting in the car with a driver who’s been drinking.” He probably gets sick of hearing me say it. I just hope and pray it sticks somewhere in his conscious and subconscious. Something like being brainwashed.

  8. @karlton3: Amen. The NFLPA gives the appearance of fighting the league on any and all discipline. Presumably some, if not much, of it being warranted and ought not be contested.

    The appeals seem to be based more on the theory of needing to check the league’s authority at every turn, than the actual merits of the player’s conduct.

    Perhaps the union would serve its constituents better if it were to include the message that accountability is a very real and necessary concept to which the players need to adhere. Appealing all discipline reinforces the opposite concept: that the player is only in trouble because of the evil commissioner and not because the player did anything wrong.

    There certainly seems to have been a change in attitude with the NFLPA and its members since Upshaw had to step down.

  9. How about they wait until they get witnesses to say a member of the New Orleans Saints did it, then suspend him and multiple additional players and coaches and millions of dollars of fines and multiple high round draft picks. It seems to be fooling the media for the concussion issue.

  10. It would never occur to me that my employer was responsible to make sure that I didn’t drink and drive.

    Counting only players, there are around 1,700 employees in the NFL. Between 15-20 have been arrested for DUI this year. That’s 1%. So keep in mind when you talk about the union protecting it’s “criminals” that 99% of them have not, in fact, been arrested for DUI.

    Why does anyone think that the threat of a suspension would be a deterrent to someone who is already putting themselves in danger of being killed or put in prison?

    This problem was not “caused” by NFL inaction and it won’t be “solved” by NFL action.

  11. NHL player Dany Heatley killed teammate Dan Snyder in a car wreck (although he wasn’t drunk he plead guilty to vehicular homicide because he was driving recklessly)

  12. There is no excuse. The league and NFLPA should adopt a new policy. If requested to provide blood/breath or field sobriety test, failure to do so means automatic 8 game suspension. If blood test shows over legal limit then 8 game suspension for first offense. 1 year for second offense and lifetime ban for 3rd. Base it on fact they were driving and the blood test results. The plea deal obtained by the lawyer should not factor. Treat failure to submit to breathalyzer or blood test as if they were over limit and use same punishment steps. The act of drinking and driving is the issue not whatever the lawyers can manipulate. The simple fix is if you drink AT ALL then don’t drive. No guessing. No being wrong about not being impaired.

  13. Depending on the state, someone that gets arrested from Driving Under the Influence (wether it be drugs or alcohol) gets their license revoked for a certain period of time, and must go through a Diversion program. Clearly, that’s not enough.

    I’m not sure what it’s going to take for ALL Americans (and people everywhere) to get the picture and stop putting innocent peoples lives in danger.

    The NFL also has a big problem on their hands considering their employees don’t seem to be getting the message here. Around 20 players (that we know of) were arrested this year for this problem alone.

    In my person opinion, I think they should be Suspended for a Full Season if CHARGED with a DUII or DWI. They know the ramifications of driving while impaired, these are smart men here. They’re the ones making the choices here, no one is forcing them to drive.

    Something needs to happen before more people end up seriously injured, or worse.

  14. No THEY SHOULD NOT “solve” the problem!
    The NFL should have absolutely ZERO to do with anything in the personal life of a player outside of the work place. Does your job meddle in your personal life? Does your job fine you and take money from you if you get a DUI on your own time?? No! Because it’s against the law! People have the right to do what they want in their own lives that includes making bad decisions that could get them in trouble with the law. It’s the freewill of being a human being for better or worse! The NFL cannot say they meddle in these players lives because they are an example for younger kids. NO THEY ARE NOT, they are football players the NFL and Media force them to be these “role models” besides Goodell and the NFL are the influence on all football programs in the country pop warner through college they all copy what the NFL is doing as an organization and Goodell is setting a horrific example as a corrupt leader which trickles down as well.

  15. Suspensions work, but I would go with fines first. If you’re involved in any DUI (or any other illegal action) you forfeit half your pay for the year. Second offense, suspension for a year, third and you’re out of the league for life.

  16. Jerry Jones, media corporations, and the empire that is the NFL, were built, in no small part, by the alcohol culture, and there’s just far too much money flowing from alcohol to do anything that might reduce their bottom line, so it’s doubtful they would do anything that might be seen as sharing responsibility for the problem. It seems that for them, as well as in our culture at large, destruction of life is a necessary sacrifice “we’re” willing to make. (Of course, the destruction ripples through families and society, in ways never seen, or even imagined by us who ignorantly believe that we’re removed from the consequences. We’re all so numb – maybe it’s the booze.) I really wish people could just hear a news story or read an article and be moved into action. (The NFL COULD be such a hammer for building a better culture!) I’m afraid, though, that at least for now, some who hear this story will say, “Hmmm, that’s too bad,” and forget it almost immediately…as the mantra continues…”It’s not MY fault…It’s not MY fault…”

  17. eatitfanboy says: Dec 8, 2012 5:16 PM

    It would never occur to me that my employer was responsible to make sure that I didn’t drink and drive.

    Thank you for those rational words. Since when did employers become responsible for their employees when they aren’t on the clock? These are not children – they are grown men. These are not professional drivers – they’re professional athletes. We have a criminal justice system to deal with law-breaking. Do you think the NFL is better equipped to deal with crime? These are the same people who call penalties on every incomplete pass longer than 15 yards. No thanks.

  18. Any business has a right to fire an employee for putting their business in the proper light. If the player/employee doesn’t want that to happen and agrees to less aggressive punishment in the form of fine and suspensions then that is also their right. If not they can just quit the job and look for another. To argue that the players shouldn’t allow for punishment for being dumb is idiotic and doesn’t look at reality.

    This type of thing SHOULD be policed by the NFL if only to ensure their employees aren’t tarnishing their brand.

  19. Yea, the league is going to take care of a problem that the legal system slaps citizens in general on the wrist for.

    If possibly killing one of your friends, possibly killing some innocent person minding their own business on the highway at the same time and what you’ll have to deal with the rest of your life after that, and oh yea, possibly killing yourself isn’t a deterrent to stop people from taking a chance when the legal consequences are so low, what do you think the NFL could do about it?
    A fine from the court system isn’t stopping normal people from hopping behind the wheel because they think they can make it, so losing paychecks in a suspension isn’t going to stop these men either.

    The only answer is mandatory, significant cold hard time behind bars, I’m talking 15-20 years to start. DUI would stop being as big of a problem in our society overnight. Who would take a chance then?

  20. my guess is players don’t want to use the union or team provided cars during the season would be because the teams would find out who was using the services, whether they were asked about it or not, and they wouldn’t be happy a player on the eve of game day would be drunk. They probably need to provide a more anonymous service through a third party.

  21. The NFL doesn’t have an alchohol problem. The NFL doesn’t have a drug problem. The NFL doesn’t have an abuse problem. The NFL doesn’t have a violence problem. The INDIVIDUALS who are coddled all their lives who end up playing in the NFL have a problem. Until society admits that, we’re only addresing symptoms, not the REAL issue.

  22. I am against it but as I talk to people I know, I am of the minority opinion that employers should not penalize employees for actions off duty that do not affect on the job performance. In the case of the NFL, that would be something like performance enhancing drugs (and only those drugs).

    I would like society to take this sort of thing more seriously. The penalties the law levies do not seem to be a large enough deterrent. I think the NFL has injected itself far enough into players lives as it is. I really wish folks would stop insisting the NFL attempt to run player’s lives. If you want harsher DUI laws demand them from society not the NFL.

  23. “League, teams, union must solve problem of drunk driving by NFL players”… Wait, why?

    Not saying that what happened in Texas today wasn’t awful, or tragic, or a senseless waste of human life, nor am I saying that drunk driving is not a problem, or that it shouldn’t be stopped. I’m just not totally clear on how it is the responsibility of the NFL, the teams, or the players union to do that.

    These are adult men who are putting their lives and the lives of others in danger through reckless and stupid actions. I guess I’m just not seeing how somebody else needs to take charge of these men and take steps to prevent them from drunk driving in the future.

    I’m an adult man, I’m presented with similar choices every weekend. Is it up to the company I work for, or its marketing department, or some kind of national marketing conglomerate to prevent me from driving drunk?

    Point is that, while we, as NFL fans, are intimately exposed to the tragic stories of players whose lives are destroyed by drunk driving, are they really that different from the rest of us? There have been around 1200 drunk driving fatalities so far in 2012: every one just as shocking and tragic as Jerry Brown, but has anyone written articles about how Wal-Mart, or Pepsi, or General Dynamics, or GMC need to step up and take steps to stop their employees from drunk driving? No, that would be ridiculous.

    I’m starting to beat a dead horse here, but NFL players are grown men, and the idea that they should be treated any differently from grown men in other professions is insulting, disrespectful, and, in a word, ridiculous.

  24. It would make sense for teams to have a support program in place to prevent driving while out partying. These guys are young and many have come into more money than they have ever been around. Preventive measures could save lives.

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