National Columnist

NFL problem? No, drinking and driving is bigger problem than that


NFL linebacker Jerry Brown is not dead because he was an NFL linebacker. NFL lineman Josh Brent was not put in jail, charged with causing Brown's death, because he's an NFL lineman.

Their tragic story is not a story about the NFL. It's a story about life.

Life happens. So does death. When drunk driving is involved, it happens far too often. But drunk driving isn't an NFL problem -- it's a people problem.

More on NFL

Related links
NFL Today
More NFL coverage

We all do it. You, possibly. Me, definitely. More than once, I've gotten into my car after a few drinks and driven a few houses -- from my neighbor's driveway to mine -- or even a few miles. Was I legally drunk those nights? Not every time, no. But at least once? Probably. To my utter shame: probably.

People do stupid things. There's no excuse for it -- whether it's you, me or the Cowboys' Josh Brent -- but there's no NFL explanation for it, either. Josh Brent, after a night of drinking, didn't climb behind the wheel of that 2007 Mercedes because he was an NFL player. He did it because he's a human being, and because human beings do stupid things when we're under the influence of alcohol.

The temptation, though, is to turn the tragedy of Jerry Brown into an indictment of the NFL.

One week earlier, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then himself. Now this. That's three people dead, two of them NFL players, in two separate incidents in two different states -- just seven days apart. By Saturday evening I was getting reactionary tweets like this one: "Murder/suicide, [now] manslaughter, enough player safety talk. How about the public's safety from players?"

By Sunday morning I was reading reactionary columns like this one in USA Today: "It's only natural that we should link [the two tragedies] ... they were both caused by NFL players who were supposed to be role models, who were cheered and adored, and who ended up committing what the police say are terrible crimes."

No, the NFL doesn't have the benefit of our doubt. Nor should it. Too many headlines have come and gone for some of us to see these headlines and not tie them together.

Even though the NFL had nothing to do with Jerry Brown and Josh Brent.

Now then, the NFL might've had something to do with Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins. Belcher's status as an NFL player could be what allowed that tragic night to unfold as it did; Kansas City police spoke with Belcher hours before he killed Perkins and then himself. According to the Kansas City Star, police found him asleep in a car, its lights still on, at about 3 a.m.

That's Suspicion of DUI 101, and police later learned that Belcher had, in fact, been drinking. But instead of submitting Belcher to sobriety tests or putting him in the back of their car and taking him to the station, officers let him go. They knew who he was. It was early Saturday morning. The Chiefs had a game the next day. Jovan Belcher was a starting linebacker.

"You just need to go upstairs," an officer told Belcher. "We're trying to cut you a break here."

We're trying to cut you a break here.

Does an officer say that to you or me if we're found asleep, after a night of drinking, at 3 a.m. behind the wheel of a car with its lights on? I hope not -- and I doubt it. I suspect that officer, and most officers, would do their duty to serve and protect by taking us to the police station.

But we don't start at linebacker for the local NFL team.

So that's where I'd say the NFL might've had something to do with the deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher, but again, only in the most glancing way. The NFL didn't cause those deaths. Even if an autopsy were to show damage to Belcher's brain, ostensibly from the pounding he received in 3 1/2 seasons in the NFL, I'd refuse to blame the death of Kasandra Perkins on that. She died not because Belcher was an NFL player, but because he was a violent man.

When Belcher was at the University of Maine, police said he punched a hole in a window because he was mad at a woman. Did Belcher suffer from brain damage in April 2006?

Had Belcher not killed Perkins on Dec. 1, it may well have happened eventually. That's what I believe, because Jovan Belcher was not just suicidal but homicidal. It's terrible knowledge to have, but it's something we now know.

As for the death of Jerry Brown, well, that's something else. Josh Brent has a history of DWI dating to his days as a player at Illinois, when he was suspended for it in 2009. Brent has a problem many people have had, continue to have, sadly will always have. He drinks to the point of inebriation, then he gets into a car and drives.

As an NFL player, Brent had better resources than most of us. NFL teams offer players a car service for times like Saturday. It costs money, as does a taxi, but the average NFL player earns $1.9 million a year. Being able to afford a safe ride home was not a concern for Josh Brent.

Being able to afford a safe ride home shouldn't be a concern for any of us, in any financial situation, given the possible consequences. For Josh Brent in 2009 it had a legal consequence. On Saturday night it had a fatal consequence.

Jerry Brown is dead, and that is for Josh Brent to live with. But it's not for us to blame the NFL. This tragedy isn't about people who play football.

It's about people.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular

CBSSports Shop

Men's Nike Black Team USA Just Do It Flag T-Shirt

Get Ready for Rio
Summer Olympics are here!
Shop Now