900 feet. Two words which have stuck with me over the past couple of days, in relation to the distance travelled by the vehicle inhabited by Josh Brent and Jerry Brown on the early hours of Saturday morning. I can't begin to appreciate the scale of the carnage both in material terms on the scene and emotional terms to those involved, and all I can do at this time is send my condolences to those affected.
The incident has however re-highlighted the issues faced by professional athletes and specifically NFL players when it comes to drunk driving. Statistical evidence from all quarters points to the fact that young males between the age of 18-35 are by far the most likely to drive over the limit, and those are the age parameters which happen to coincide with the demographics of the league. I fit into that category, as will a lot of people reading this piece.
If I'm honest about my initial reaction to the news – I initially excoriated Josh Brent for his decision to drive while over the limit, and while I still fundamentally disagree with the decision, I can understand the thought process which may have led to it. My first thought was 'why on earth did he not use the NFLPA service for these scenarios?' After considering the issue and looking into the subject, the reasons start to become clearer. The lack of trust between ownership and players has rarely had the intensity which it seems to have at this point. The mistrust manifests itself in relation to this subject in that the players don't want to use the service because they feel the information would be disseminated and used by ownership in contract and personnel decisions, as reflected on by Mike Freeman of CBS in this piece and Rashean Mathis in this example.
Do the players have a right to this opinion? In my book, they do. Dissatisfaction with suspensions and fines; the acrimony of the lockout last year and the kangaroo court prosecution of the Saints bounty case all feed into the idea that Roger Goodell – and by extension, ownership – can't be trusted. I was discussing the idea with the excellent Greg Cowan of CA, and he disagrees with me on whether it's reasonable or excessively paranoid – i'd be really interested to hear people's thoughts on this. All I know is, if I'm out drinking the night before an away game, I'm certainly not going to risk that information reaching my team (which is risky enough when you go out in public, I guess).
If players can't trust ownership and even the NFLPA's service, then who can they trust? Public taxi services, who'd be dialing for TMZ within 10 seconds of the journey being completed? Definitely not. And while the option of more bespoke services should certainly be examined by all of those players who want to go out and drink, practice squad guys like Josh Brent and Jerry Brown aren't on Peyton Manning contracts, the confidentiality issues are huge, and many of them will see an easy alternative to save a bit of money.
What then, do I advocate? I'm normally on the side of the NFLPA when there's a dispute with ownership, it's the type of guy I am. But in this case, it's really time for the union to step up. The NFLPA has seemingly steadily resisted the idea of suspensions for DUI offenders, and to me this is absolutely staggering. How on earth can this be justified, except as part of a wider strategy aimed at countering every move made by the opposition (ownership)? Even in that case, it can't be justified. A firm message needs to be sent, a shot across the bows of the league. A mandatory four game suspension would send an appropriate message, particularly when one considers that it's the standard punishment for Adderall. As it is now, the league seems to prioritise Adderall consumption over limiting drink driving. Hmm.
And if the players aren't willing to rebuild the relationship with ownership, it's down to the NFLPA to provide a reliable, trustworthy service for it's members. I don't care if Kevin Mawae, Dominique Foxworth and DeMaurice Smith have to drive the damned cars themselves, there's absolutely no excuse for the current situation. 4th Amendment rights make the idea of a consistent, nationwide policy an impossibility for enforcement agencies, so as an organisation with membership which spreads the breadth of the country, it's on the NFLPA.
An aspiring, soon-to-be father died on Saturday morning due to mistakes from a whole host of individuals. The NFL and NFLPA need to act to stop such a tragedy happening again.