The NFL and America’s Drinking Problem
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
A month ago Jerry Brown Jr. lost his life. Like all too many people, each and every day, his death was the result of drunk driving. According to police reports, Brown was a passenger in the car of his Dallas Cowboys’ teammate and college roommate, Josh Brent. Traveling at what appeared to be a high speed on an interstate highway, Brent’s car struck the “outside curb, causing the vehicle to flip at least one time before coming to rest in the middle of the service road.” In just an instant one man’s life was lost and his best friend’s life would be forever changed. “Officers at the scene believed alcohol was a contributing factor in the crash,” noted John Argumaniz, an Irving police spokesman. “Based on the results and the officer’s observations and conversations with Price-Brent, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.” This is tragic on so many levels, but that is not the emergent story.
In wake of this tragic death and Brent’s arrest, a narrative emerged that sought to construct a bridge between football and drunk driving. The Memphis Business Journal parroted widely cited statistics in its piece about the “NFL’s Drinking Problem” to highlight the large problem that had tragic consequences:
In the wake of the alcohol-related death of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown over the weekend, the NFL may have some serious soul-searching to do.
USA TODAY reports 28 percent of the 624 player arrests since 2000 occurred because of a suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The single-vehicle accident in which Brown was killed marked the third time since 1998 an NFL player killed another person due to suspected intoxicated driving, the paper reported.
Barron H. Lerner, with “Why Can’t the NFL Stop Its Players From Driving Drunk?” offered a similar song, noting statistics about NFL players and arrests (yet of course failing to offer notation that this same study revealed that NFL players were less likely to engaged in this practice than their non-playing peers). He also recycled the longstanding argument that NFL players are more likely to engaged in such behavior because of the lack of moral and legal consequences:
It is reasonable to speculate that these efforts have lowered the rates of drunk driving among NFL players and, for that matter, all professional athletes. But there is still a culture of drinking and driving among NFL players. As Dan Wetzel reported on Yahoo, drunk driving is the league’s biggest legal issue. A study by the San Diego Union-Tribune found that 112 of the 385 NFL player arrests between 2000 and 2008 involved drunk driving. In 2009, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donté Stallworth, who had been drinking at a hotel bar in Florida, struck and killed a pedestrian. The problem is that there are limits to moral and legal deterrents.
Similarly, Brian Miller called for greater surveillance and punishment to address the NFL’s criminal problem:
From drugs, murder, DUI, assault and battery, the NFL needs to stand up in front and lead. They need to be tougher and frankly, Roger Goodell is a pretty tough commissioner. However, it’s time that he starts landing major punches in his battle to clean up the image of the NFL. In order to do that, he will need more than simple cooperation from the (players’ union). This is not an NFL issue; it’s a players issue.
The narrative that imagines the NFL as a league of irresponsible drunks and criminally-minded threats to public safety dominants the landscape.
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