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Trust me: Player DUI arrests are about more than poor judgment

by | National NFL Insider
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Former Lions No. 1 pick Nick Fairley found trouble again last week. (Getty Images)  
Former Lions No. 1 pick Nick Fairley found trouble again last week. (Getty Images)  

In under a week, the NFL saw at least three of its players, some of them high-round draft picks, arrested for driving under the influence. It will not go down as the NFL's best six days ever.

Detroit's Nick Fairley was arrested May 28 after allegedly driving 100 mph and eluding police. He was arrested for driving under the influence.

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Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton was arrested June 1 on suspicion of driving while impaired.

Justin Blackmon, the first-round pick of Jacksonville, was arrested June 3 on an aggravated DUI charge. It was his second arrest for driving under the influence in two years.

This isn't a column moralizing about the troubles of young NFL players. This is different, and it begins with a simple question.

Many of the NFL's teams (if not all) will provide players who feel they have been drinking too much (or think they might) with a car service. It's been called the safe rides program. Just call a number and -- boom -- instant free ride. The entire process is supposed to be anonymous (though it seems plausible a driver would recognize a high-profile player).

So here's the question:

Why don't more players use the service?

The safe rides program was never extremely popular, but when the league ran it, it was still used. Most players utilized the service (and still do now) at high profile events like the Super Bowl. Players not participating in the game would use the service to hit the Super Bowl party circuit.

Now, the service is all but dead. Its lack of use, players say, is about lack of trust. That trust of course has gotten worse the past few years after a lengthy and bitter lockout, and only deepened suspicions that the car services provided by teams cannot be trusted.

The reasons some players provided why they won't use the service are, well, quite interesting and relate back to trust issue. Some of the reasons are ridiculous, but others are legitimate considering the heightened sense of tension that now exists between the players and NFL.

Some players believe the NFL puts hidden microphones and cameras into the vehicles. Others believe the drivers are spies for the league or, if they aren't, the drivers would sell any potential embarrassing information to tabloid newspapers. One player believed the limo drivers might plant embarrassing information on the player and then blackmail him.

Crazy, yes. Extreme paranoia? Definitely yes. But one reason given was actually sensible. One player source says teams will use the number of times a player activates the service when contract time arrives and then use that information against the player. It's allegedly happened on several occasions.

None of this is to excuse players for driving while intoxicated. In any way. They could always, you know, call a cab. Or find a car service they trust.

The NFL and union have been pushing this message to players for years. If you party, call for a limo. If you don't trust NFL teams, call for a car service you do trust. If none of that applies, try a cab.

While much of the rest of the country has gotten this message -- and in fairness, many players have as well -- there are apparently still too many players that haven't. When three players get popped in one short span that's not an insignificant problem.

One longtime veteran told me another reason players won't use NFL's car service (or any for that matter) is because they want to show off their own fancy cars even if it means they are risking their lives and careers and the lives of innocents by drinking and driving.

Again, this is far from all players, and the majority don't get drunk and then hop into a car. Still three arrests so quickly, for certain, have caught the NFL's attention. As it should.

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