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Dallas Cowboys Tragedy: Josh Brent Kills Jerry Brown in Drunken Crash

Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent faces 20 years in prison after killing teammate Jerry Brown in a drunken crash.

ESPN (“Josh Brent arrested after fatal crash“):

Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent was set to make his sixth start of the season Sunday. Instead he will post bond from an Irving, Texas, jail after being charged with intoxicated manslaughter after a car accident in which teammate Jerry Brown was killed early Saturday morning.

If found guilty, Brent could face two to 20 years of prison time.

According to Irving police, Brent’s car was traveling at a high rate of speed on a State Highway 114 service road before it hit the outside curb at approximately 2:30 a.m. The car flipped at least one time and skidded an estimated 900 feet before coming to rest in the middle of the service road, police said.

When the police arrived, Brent was attempting to pull Brown, a practice squad linebacker, from the burning Mercedes.

Irving police spokesman John Argumaniz said officers conducted a field-sobriety test on Brent and arrested him.

Brown was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 25.

“I am devastated and filled with grief,” Brent said in a statement through his agent, Peter Schaffer. “Filled with grief for the loss of my close friend and teammate, Jerry Brown. I am also grief-stricken for his family, friends and all who were blessed enough to have known him. I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life. My prayers are with his family, our teammates and his friends at this time.”

The NFL and the Cowboys have issued appropriate statements and will deploy professionals to help players cope with this tragedy. One week to the day after another NFL player, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend before committing suicide, some are saying the league has a problem.  Jeff Chadiha:

There comes a point where grieving, lamenting and wondering why these tragedies have happened just isn’t enough. At some point, accountability and responsibility come into question.

That’s where the NFL sits today, as it has lost its second player in a week for what amounts to disturbingly poor judgment. For a league that has talked about player safety, player conduct and the value of “protecting the shield,” it’s time to rethink how it’s addressing some of the less discussed issues affecting its brand.

[...]

The details may be different, but the larger point shouldn’t be missed. The dirtiest of the NFL’s little secrets — drunken driving, domestic violence and guns — have become major headlines. The time for relegating them to secondary status in the news cycle has passed.

Sure, the league is at its best with the most controversial of topics. It has been eager to answer the matter of concussions in recent years (by stifling on-field violence), the transgressions of its biggest stars (such as the dogfighting scandal that led to federal imprisonment for Michael Vick) and the fallout of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. The problem is that drunken driving, domestic violence and gun possession don’t seem to rate nearly as high on the league’s list of issues that must be addressed. They get treated as if they are more correctable issues than they actually are, the kind that can be handled with simple condemnation by commissioner Roger Goodell or a few thoughtful seminars at the league’s rookie symposium.

The reality is that these problems have existed for years. One tragic death is already too many for the NFL. Two tells us that some players aren’t nearly as in control of their actions as they might think. How many drunken driving stories have we heard in this year alone? How many tales of domestic violence get reported every season? An alarming number of NFL players find it necessary to own a gun.

It’s not that the league is any different from society at large in that regard. People drive drunk all the time. Domestic violence is so common that more than three women are murdered every day in the United States by their husband or boyfriend, according to the Domestic Violence Resource Center. Gun control has been a constant debate for decades, and that won’t end any time soon.

It’s that the league is supposed to hold itself to a higher standard. That’s what Goodell is always preaching. It’s the country’s most popular sport, this game that has become a drug to so many giddy fans. If the NFL truly is going to carry that mantle, it needs to take the lead on these issues. It must start cracking down in ways that will elicit significant changes.

This is the same league that has no problem suspending a player for taking too many borderline shots at the heads of defenseless receivers. The NFL will drop a five-figure fine the second some tackler gets too close to Tom Brady’s knees. It does this because it says it wants to change the culture of the game. Talk to enough people in the league office and they’ll gloat over how heavy-handed punishment has re-educated several players regarding violence in the game. That same approach has to be taken with drunken driving, domestic violence and guns.

My initial reaction to the suggestion that these two acts are related was, to say the least, skeptical. But Chadiha is certainly right that the NFL–and sports leagues in general–do too little about off-the-field misconduct. The NFL will fine a player for having a jersey untucked or wearing the wrong color shoes. Yet they have no problem paying millions to players with a history of domestic violence, drunk driving, and general thuggishness.  Indeed, Brent was arrested for drunk driving while in college and sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years probation.  This ended his college career but didn’t prevent the Cowboys taking him in the supplemental draft. (That’s one stark difference from last week’s incident: Belcher had been a model student and teammate.)

As sordid as all this is, though, I’m not sure how far the NFL and other sports leagues should go. Should they simply banish players convicted of criminal offenses? What about those accused or suspected of criminal or generally sleazy behavior? Or is it just a matter of, as Chadiha suggests, a much stronger program of counseling and awareness? I’m skeptical that there’s much value to that; indeed, most of the leagues have an absurd amount of training on everything from performance enhancing drugs to financial management that serves to simultaneously annoy the vast majority of players who have their acts together without obvious impact on the knuckleheads.

All of the leagues have cracked down on steroids and other PEDs, fearing that their fanbases would revolt otherwise. And the NBA, in particular, has taken some significant steps in recent years to distance itself from the gangster culture that was tarnishing its brand. Then again, fans are awfully forgiving of even the most outrageous off-the-field behavior if the players are good enough when the whistle blows. We’ll never really know the real stories behind Ray Lewis and Kobe Bryant, for example, but they’re both major marketing brands.

Meanwhile, as was the case last week, the games will go on. That’s rather surreal but there’s no practical alternative given the tens of thousands of people directly affected.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There comes a point where grieving, lamenting and wondering why these tragedies have happened just isn’t enough. At some point, accountability and responsibility come into question.

    That’s where the NFL sits today, as it has lost its second player in a week for what amounts to disturbingly poor judgment.

    Ohh, give me a break. My ex-wife, a Pharmacists Asst. (yeah, I thought the same thing), is presently doing her 2nd stint in prison (6 yrs) for DWI. Do we scream and cry about how the Pharmaceutical Industry isn’t doing enough to police their people? Do we declare that the Carpenters Union should penalize any member who gets arrested for domestic violence? Or the ABA punish any lawyer who gets arrested for drug possession?

    Open the newspaper. It is full of people doing the same kind of stupid things as NFL players and I would wager at about the same rate. The only difference is the NFL and it’s players and coaches labor under the microscope that is the sports media.

    All I can say is Matthew 7:3,

    “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  2. JKB says:

    So the NFL is responsible for the players private off-work behavior but what about Hollywood, or some corporation? True the NFL has a brand and their product is the players performance and reputation. But then this behavior in big sports is reinforced all the way down at high school. It is common for illegal behavior of good players to receive a wink and a nod by the schools and by the local police. In college, that goes state-wide. Is it surprising that receiving that message some players have moved to class-A felonies, and splashy tabloid crimes, that can’t be covered up?

    If you want to fix this, then you have to go all the way back and hold principals and coaches as well as local law enforcement accountable for their cover ups so they stop burying the misdemeanors that being hauled in for might have caused the player to straighten up after receiving minor punishment. Instead, they are covered for until the crime is so big it can’t be buried deep enough. Otherwise, you end up with decades of child rape victims, very public muder-suicides. How long before we see the opening of the ‘Last Boy Scout’ where a player shoots the defense as he runs downfield then blows his brains out in the endzone?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’m guessing you’re right that the NFL is not atypical. Indeed, it might even be better than average considering the backgrounds of the players—although probably below average considering the income levels of the players.

    The difference between NFL players and other professional athletes and, say, pharmacist assistants is the degree to which they serve as role models and are admired, if not idolized, by our youth. Their example stands out because of the way we lionize athletes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. @James Joyner: Seems to me your argument applies to the entertainment industry generally. Massively compensated, terminally unaccountable, with morality irrelevant as long as they make money.

    So, your argument applies to elite MSM punditry and the finance industry, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Whitfield says:

    Ok, Bob Costas: how about the alcohol culture in pro sports ? I really believe that alcohol use and events like these are no more prevalent in pro sports than for the population as a whole. This gets the headlines while the every Saturday night driving while impaired accidents will show up on page 33b if at all. Does alcohol abuse occur more often in pro sports ? Don’t know. I remember years ago a famous baseball player was questioned by a parent about his smoking during batting practice; that this was not a good example from an athlete for children and young people. His reply was something like: “I’m not an athlete, I’m a ball player”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Bill says:

    @Whitfield:

    This gets the headlines while the every Saturday night driving while impaired accidents will show up on page 33b if at all.

    I have subscribed to newspapers for 30 years, and never can I recall a 34-page section B. Ok I’ve never been a newspaper subscriber in NY, but does the Times ever get that big?

    Back to the story. Pro athletes acting stupidly. Not really anything new but somebody got killed and it happened twice in a short period of time. An overreaction had to be expected.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. de stijl says:

    @Whitfield:

    I remember years ago a famous baseball player was questioned by a parent about his smoking during batting practice; that this was not a good example from an athlete for children and young people.

    Athletes (or entertainers or CEOs for that matter) are no more inherently worthy of being a role model than crossing guards, endocrinologists or pharmacist assistants.

    Professional athletes are good at their jobs and have worked hard to get and keep their job. They were born with certain genetic gifts and have exercised and practiced to hone their skills.

    Being good at your job doesn’t make you special. Millions are good at their jobs. Being good at your job doesn’t make you a good person. Being on television doesn’t make you a good person.

    Athletes can be role-models (as can entertainers, CEOs, crossing guards, endocrinologists and pharmacist assistants), being an athlete doesn’t make you a role model.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Frankly I’m suprised the situation isn’t far worse.
    Handing a bunch of 20-something year old kids millions of dollars is a recipe for disaster.
    You would have to show me how the NFL is any different than any other slice of equivilant population for me to get worked up over this.
    Seriously…this post comes down to an incident of domestic violence in Kansas City, a DUI death in Irving, and something Ray Lewis wasn’t convicted for from 12 years ago. Oh yeah…and Kobe Bryant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Frankly I’m suprised the situation isn’t far worse.
    Handing a bunch of 20-something year old kids millions of dollars is a recipe for disaster.
    You would have to show me how the NFL is any different than any other slice of equivilant population for me to get worked up over this.

    Exactly right. Young people with a lot of money do not always do the right thing when it comes to a night out on the town. These guys have enough money to rent a limo every time they want to party until 4AM, but they don’t do that – who can be surprised?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. de stijl says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Young people with a lot of money do not always do the right thing when it comes to a night out on the town.

    Young people with $40 in their pocket and $517 split between checking and savings do incredibly stupid things on Saturday nights (and Tuesday early afternoons for that matter). I certainly did.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. Jenos Idanian Who Has No Pony Tail says:

    So, are we going to blame alcohol or cars for this case?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian Who Has No Pony Tail:

    So, are we going to blame alcohol or cars for this case?

    If you’re a Republican, you blame Obama, because he gave them free alcohol and other free stuff. If you’re a Democrat you blame Rick Santorum just because Rick deserves to be blamed for just about any stupid act or behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    The homicide rate per 100,000 in the U. S. city ranked the highest in that sad statistic is New Orleans at 72.8. More typical is under 15 per 100,000.

    The NFL employs under 2,000 players. The NFL has just seen multiple homicides over a period of just ten days. Just on a statistical basis it appears to me that the NFL has a problem.

    The NFL has some additional risk factors for homicides, e.g. age, sex. I’m not sure how that factors in but I would speculate that even on an age- and sex-adjusted basis the NFL is seeing more homicides than should reasonably be expected.

    There are other issues that should be investigated. Steroid use is known to be associated with higher levels of violent behavior. So is traumatic brain injury. Both of these factors are believed to be at work in professional athletics, particularly professional football.

    Ritualized violence is inherent to football. Once you’ve gotten to the level of the NFL there may be psychological and social factors at work as well.

    I think that some league-wide investigation is called for and, if there’s reason to believe that substance abuse, TBI, or psychological or social factors encouraged by the sport are factors in football players injuring themselves and other people off the field, some actions need to be taken. I would hope that the league undertakes such an investigation on their own rather than having one forced upon them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Eric Florack says:

    So, when do we see Costas demanding we outlaw both cars and booze since absent those, nobody would have died?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  15. Gustopher says:

    You need a car to get from point A to point B in this country — at least the vast majority of the time. And we have an acceptance of recreational drinking.

    Absent other strong controls on this (breath alcohol detectors installed in every car? probably too invasive), this is the entirely foreseeable consequence of the above two facts. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t driven home from dinner or a bar with one or two too many drinks under their belt, and most of the time, nothing bad happens — if you’re very lucky you scrape the fender on your mailbox or something and say “hmm, that was probably a bad idea, I’ll be more careful in the future”

    Well, at least Brent only killed the guy in the car with him (who was probably too drunk to make a good choice about getting in the car with a drunk guy), and not some tired guy getting off work on the night shift.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Eric Florack: You’re an idiot if you think these two events are basically the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Bernieyeball says:

    @Gustopher: What’s the matter with you. Everyone knows that guns and cars are exactly alike. Guns can always be used for transportation from one place to another…it’s called car jacking!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. Rick Almeida says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Interestingly enough, operating a car under the influence of booze is in fact against the law.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The homicide rate per 100,000 in the U. S. city ranked the highest in that sad statistic is New Orleans at 72.8. More typical is under 15 per 100,000.

    The NFL employs under 2,000 players. The NFL has just seen multiple homicides over a period of just ten days. Just on a statistical basis it appears to me that the NFL has a problem.

    I notice Dave that you ignore the “over what period of time” criterion.

    Seriously guys, I can not count the # of times I have gotten to a job site at 5:30 or 6:30 AM and found guys passed out in their cars because they were too drunl to drive home AND wake up in time to show up for work ON time.

    But they don’t park camera crews at job sites.

    @James Joyner: We have the wrong role models.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    although probably below average considering the income levels of the players.

    C’mon James… I have to take exception at this as a child of one of the largest company towns in the history of the US…

    Auggie…

    Peter Busch chewed the ear off a man. At least Tyson lost his Trophy Belt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Unsympathetic says:

    In rookie orientation, Goodell should be saying “When you go drinking, ALWAYS have someone drive you home.”

    I’d bet the rate of “total fatalities” / “total times all current NFL players go drinking in one year” is not significantly higher than the US population as a whole.

    I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about this — stupid people do stupid things.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Whitfield says:

    @al-Ameda: Please tell me just where I can get this free alcohol!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Whitfield says:

    Contrast this story with the article below it about Pete Dawkins.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Back when I was still adjuncting and substitute teaching in the US, I was invited to teach seniors on the Friday of the prom. The bulk of the material for the day was the usual sermons about drinking and driving and not getting pregnant. Being the kind of reckless sort that I am, I noted to the students the scenes where the students in the drinking and driving movie were drinking and practicing the field sobriety test. The students were surprised to learn that one can learn to do almost any skill while drunk if the practice it enough (indeed, I have worked with guys in one industry who couldn’t do the job until after they had started drinking).

    They were even more suprised at my advice to them. On pregancy, I reminded the boys that “passion is fleeting, true love can last a lifetime, but child support is 21 years in this jurisdiction–25 if your kid gets into grad school.”

    On drinking and driving–“the statistically safe seat is the one with the steering wheel in front of it, if everyone is drunk and somebody gets to live, it might as well be you. Wiser to take a cab or call someone’s mom, but otherwise, insist on driving.”

    Josh remembered the statistic, Jason didn’t–the definition of tragedy. Surprisingly enough, I was invited back to that high school for prom Friday for the next three years–until I moved to Korea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. @Dave Schuler: Uh, except that according to the FBI’s definitions, the NFL has only had one homicide this year (the one committed by Jovan Belcher). The FBI does not include involuntary manslaughter under their definition of “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter” (which is what is cited in the Wikipedia page that you cited), only voluntary manslaughter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. carrie says:

    STUPID COMMENT. POLITICAL AFFILIATIONS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS TOPIC AT ALL!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Paul says:

    Too much money coupled with too few brains (read: lack of maturity) will inevitably lead to irresponsible behavior as this and other such incidents clearly show. There should be a suspension by the team without pay for a significant amount of time for the first case of irresponsible off-the-field behavior followed by suspension for a minimum of one year by the league for the second. Three strikes and your out permanently for the third. As to what constitutes such offending behavior would have to be agreed upon by the league.

    I think the league should hand out more suspensions of significant length without pay whenever there is an on-the-field problem with a player rather than rely solely upon monetary fines which seem to have little effect. A player’s future performance and value declines proportional to the amount of time he spends off the field and out of the game. One or two game suspensions are not enough. A minimum of 4 to 6 games almost ensures the individual will be taken out of the starting rotation if and when he returns and thus his value will decline. That will tend to get the attention of most and cause the head to be “realigned.” Suh of Detroit comes to mind.

    And on the matter of possessing guns – if a legal carry permit has been obtained that should be sufficient and require nothing else from the league or team. Otherwise any gun related activity that results in law enforcement action should be automatic suspension for a lengthy period. The gun is not the problem and never has been contrary to those who spoke out against gun possession immediately following the KC Chiefs tragedy most notably Bob Costas of NBC, without once acknowledging the extent to which gun possession and use contributes daily to preventing death and mayhem across the nation in acts of self defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Bernieyeball says:

    The gun is not the problem and never has been…

    Guns are necessary to kill people with bullets. You can not throw bullets at people and kill them. The bullets need to be fired from a gun.
    People kill people with guns in this country because they can.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0