The NFL has a drinking problem.
Actually, it is more like a drinking and driving problem.
In a league where player protection has taken center stage, pro football officials seem more than a little two-faced when it comes to the subject.
On the field, rules are being changed rapidly in an attempt to keep players from getting injured. Safety has become such a concern that how the game is played has even been altered.
The Saints have been targeted by the league as the scapegoat for overzealous violence. Rarely is contact even allowed during a pro practice.
Getting players off the field safely seems to be the league’s biggest priority. Getting them home safely clearly is not.
Jerry Brown Jr. is the latest proof of that.
A member of the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, Brown was killed Saturday morning in another senseless accident. One that could have, in fact should have, been avoided.
Brown was the passenger in a car being driven by Josh Brent, the starting nose tackle of the Cowboys who was a teammate of Brown’s at the University of Illinois.
Brent was allegedly driving his car while drunk. He has been arrested and release on $500,000 bond.
You would think his pro career was the least of his worries, but history shows us a DUI hardly slows you down in the NFL’s fast lane.
In this year alone, 14 other NFL players have been arrested on drunken-driving charges. Only one was cut by his team because of that fact. He later found a job with another club.
Drinking and driving may not mix, but they have become a dangerous pattern in the world of professional football.
Yet, the league seems more interested in taking away kickoffs to keep players healthy than their keys when needed.
It should be noted here that the union has a policy that allows for players to get rides home when they are out drunk. Sad part is, not enough seem to be using it.
This from a league where guys can not only afford a phone call or taxi, but easily have the financial ability to ride around in a limo when out on the town.
You would think after the past players would have learned. At least they should have learned.
That sad part of all this is how the league proclaims its players to be role models. Yet while steroids and other drugs can get you suspended, drinking and driving doesn’t.
Remember back before the second game of this season, Atlanta Falcons star back Michael Turner celebrated his team’s win by getting arrested for driving under the influence? The league didn’t even blink an eye. Turner played the next week against the San Diego Chargers.
Granted, Turner’s arrest was different from most of the other problems in the league for his game during the season. But, the issue is still the game. The league turns a blind eye to the drunk driving problems of its players.
What makes the league look even worse is that the players don’t seem to understand the gravity of either their actions or their words.
Just days before the Brown tragedy, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway stuck his cleats in his over-sized mouth.
Greenway was trying to be clever when he asked Vikings fans to be “super-duper drunk” when they came to the Metrodome for last Sunday’s division showdown with the Chicago Bears.
“Yeah, I would say morning drinking,” Greenway said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Why not? You could pull an all-nighter. Then you’d have the drunk, tired guys who will really be obnoxious.”
Greenway only wanted Vikings to be loud and crazy to help his team beat Chicago. But, you have to believe some fools took him to heart and said the club needs me. Then, they still have to drive home.
To his credit, Greenway said later in the week he went a little “too far” and hoped everybody took his words as they were intended, “tongue-in-cheek.”
Maybe it was just bad timing. But, Greenway’s words show that despite the previous issues the league has had with its players and drinking there are many who still don’t get it.
You would hope that the players and league might at least learn from the latest tragedy in Dallas, but you don’t know. Nobody seemed to learn from the Leonard Little incident.
Little, a player for the St. Louis Rams, left a party in 1998 and crashed into and killed a woman. He tested above the legal limit for intoxication in Missouri and was convicted of manslaughter. He received four years probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
He was suspended eight games by the league, mainly because of the conviction.
Later in his career he would sign two huge contract extensions with the Rams, making him rich beyond belief. He would help the Rams win a Super Bowl and play in another.
In 2004, while still in the league, Little would be arrested again and for driving under the influence. He reportedly told police he had been drinking. He was convicted of misdemeanor speeding but acquitted of DWI.
Little was sentenced to two years’ probation on May 6, 2005, but played in all 16 games for the Rams in 2004.
So, this is not a new problem in the league. It is one officials have had time to explore and work on.
The lesson to players and fans seems to be as long as you can still play it’s OK to party.
In a league where the shield is to be protected at all costs, it seems the NFL has dropped the ball when it comes to drunk driving.
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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org