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Brent deserves prison, but getting banned from sideline is cruel

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Josh Brent won't be on the sideline Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys' home finale. Satisfied? That's what you wanted, right?

That's what the Cowboys reportedly want -- they want Brent banished from the sidelines, hidden from nosy TV cameras and shrieking TV analysts. At least, I hope it's what the Cowboys want. I hope they're not merely bowing to pressure from people who don't matter.

People like you. And me. This whole story is emotional and awful and centered around an issue, drunk driving, that affects many of us -- but Josh Brent's sideline plans aren't my business. Or yours.

Not Boomer Esiason's business, either.

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And listen, nothing but love for Boomer Esiason. Never met the guy, but we've talked on Twitter. Nice fellow -- and so very inspirational for his work to defeat cystic fibrosis, which picked the wrong kid in 1993 when it went after Boomer's son, Gunnar. Two decades later, Boomer and Gunnar Esiason have CF on the run. Much love for Boomer.

But Boomer was wrong when he attacked the Cowboys on Sunday, pretty much shaming Josh Brent off the sidelines. Brent's appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers caught almost everyone by surprise, from Esiason to fans watching on TV to Cowboys officials themselves, who said they'd had no advance notice that Brent would be there.

As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett learned later, Brent was there because he'd been asked to be there by his teammates. They're Brent's best friends, some of his only friends after the devastation of Dec. 8, when he made the horrible choice to get into his car after a night of drinking and drive away with his buddy, teammate Jerry Brown, sitting next to him. Wherever they were going, they didn't get there. Brent ran into a curb, flipped his car and skidded hundreds of feet.

Jerry Brown died that day.

Josh Brent's life, as he knows it, ended as well.

Brent has been charged with intoxication manslaughter and faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Given that his blood-alcohol content was 0.18 -- more than twice the legal limit -- and that he had been convicted of DUI three years earlier, Josh Brent won't get a slap on the wrist. He'll almost surely get prison time, and deservedly so. For drinking and driving and killing one person and jeopardizing the safety of everyone who shared a road with him that night, Josh Brent deserves to go to prison.

He deserves other things as well. He deserves to be treated humanely, even kindly, especially by those who care about him. Look, few people in this world -- Jerry Brown's parents, but maybe nobody else -- lost as much as Josh Brent lost on Dec. 8. He lost his best friend. He killed his best friend. He lost his dream career. He lost his freedom, most likely, after the courts are through with him. He lost his reputation. He lost damn near everything that night, and now we're going to complain because he's standing on the sideline a week later with his friends and teammates?

That's what people did, most notably Boomer Esiason, who asked on Twitter, "Am I the only one that is wondering what in the world the Cowboys are thinking with Josh Brent on the sideline?"

It wasn't just Esiason. It was the world, or it must have felt that way to Brent and the Cowboys once word spread on social media that Josh Brent was at the game. Look at that fool! Can you believe it? The outrage was so loud and moving so fast, Brent heard it on the sideline ... and left in the third quarter.

And now he won't be back. The Cowboys have seen to that, though Brent probably wouldn't have shown up Sunday against the Saints, not after what happened last weekend. But who knows? Maybe teammates were going to ask him, insist to him, that he come back. They're closer to the situation than we are, and they know Jerry Brown's parents would approve. Brown's parents urged the Cowboys to support Brent in any way they see fit. Whatever Brent needs from the team that employed their son, Brown's family wants the Cowboys to give it.

Who are we to say it's wrong?

I hear the "it sends the wrong message" argument, but think it through. If Josh Brent were on the sideline again Sunday, people would be talking about his story -- which means talking about the dangers of drunk driving. That's a conversation that can save lives. Maybe your kid's life, years from now, if he were to ask you, "Why does everyone care if that man is on the sidelines?"

You could have told your kid why, and talked about what Josh Brent did Dec. 8. About drinking and driving. About the friend he killed.

And you could have told your kid about Josh Brent's other friends, the ones supporting him through his lowest moments. That's a great story, but one that will go untold.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. 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.
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