I think its important to remember what those acronyms stand for. The reason is that maybe the most important thing to remember in these cases is that if we expect these athletes, or anyone for that matter, to make wise decisions after they are legally intoxicated or under the influence then we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed. If they decide to get in and operate a car at that point it is at least partially a product of the fact that they hadn't planned ahead before they ever went out and had a drink.
Marshawn Lynch's DUI arrest over the weekend, the latest in the annual slew of offseason DUI arrests, just about guarantees there will be a ridiculous amount of articles, columns, and blog posts written about athletes and DUIs this week but I decided to add my two cents anyway.
Why, you ask?
Because I think I can add some perspective on the topic as a former player myself. I'll start off by admitting that yes, I have imbibed alcohol and then driven off in my car back during my playing days. Thankfully I've never been arrested nor been in any kind of accident back when I did such things, but that doesn't change the fact that I did them. Its not something I'm proud of, but at the very least it qualifies me to speak on why one reasonably intelligent professional athlete did such a stupid thing. I do realize that other former NFL players have also lent their perspective on the reasons behind DUIs, most recently Nate Jackson. I also realize that, just as Mr. Jackson did, some of the other players tried to excuse the behaviors rather than confront them.
That is by no means what I am going to do here.
My intent instead is to not only provide some of the reasoning behind why and how this happens with NFL players, but also attempt to spit ball some solutions.
Now it is important to note that not every DUI/DWI arrest automatically means someone is guilty. A couple of weeks ago I was on the radio saying as much, pleading with local Buccaneers fans who thought Tampa Bay's new head coach Greg Schiano should suspend cornerback Eric Wright, one of their big free agent acquisitions this year, solely based on his arrest for DUI before there was a conviction, to let the situation play out first. And it turns out just last week those charges were dropped. Therefore, I don't want this to be construed as me pronouncing guilt on any of the players who have been recently arrested for DUI. But we all know that it has happened in the past and continues to happen too much.
Let's be clear about a few things off the bat. There is ample evidence to suggest that NFL players are, in general, arrested at a lower rate than the rest of the population, and specifically arrested for driving drunk at a lower rate than the rest of the population.
However, I realize that at this point that nobody wants to hear that shit. As much as people say that professional athletes think they're invincible, the flip side of it is a lot of those players' fans think they're infallible as well. We want our heros to share our values and be perfect no matter if they are a football player, a preacher, a police officer, a politician or a soldier. We want them to somehow be more than human. When they don't measure up the disappointment, while perhaps unfair, is certainly real and intense.
Nevertheless to understand what is going on with NFL players getting arrested for DUIs I think we have to, at least initially, also look at the what's going on in the general population. It turns out that the statistics show that close to 300,000 people in this country drive drunk every day. You have to also note that:
Young men, ages 21–34, made up only 11 percent of the U.S. population in 2010, yet were responsible for 32 percent of all episodes of drinking and driving.
Midnight to 3 a.m. is the time with the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes, 55 percent.
Want to know what time period holds the second highest percentage? 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Unfortunately the vast majority of NFL players are in the age range, of course are the same gender and party in the time range that leads to the highest levels of drunk driving incidents and fatalities. That does not excuse it but the facts are the facts. That is why drunk driving is not just an NFL problem or a pro athlete problem but bigger than that a societal problem.
There are however additional factors which may push pro athletes and in this case specifically NFL players to disregard the predictable consequences and put themselves in position to drink and drive. Here are a few from my personal experience.
Ever heard of the word flossin? Its just another way of saying you're showing off. Many pro athletes like to show off. There's the jewelry, the nice house, and oh yeah that nice ass car or SUV in the driveway. NFL players in particular, because you rarely get to see our faces, tend to have very nice cars, many times to alert people of our status. Believe me this isn't confined to the stereotypical "baller". You aren't likely to see a NFL QB pulling up in a Hyundai either (no offense to Hyundai owners). The truth is you might be a starter on your NFL football team but if you aren't a *star* then fans of the team might walk right by you and never even notice.
So now you have spent your hard earned money on this really expensive car and you want everyone to see you in it. Yeah maybe you and all of your teammates/friends are going to the same hot spot but you can't go together! You have to pull up and make everybody jealous when you open the door.
Yes, this is very egotistical and ridiculous. Its also not an uncommon way to look at the situation when you're young with a lot of money. Especially if you didn't grow up with a lot to begin with.
Girls Girls Girls
Then there is the "I might get lucky" factor. If you're young and single playing in the NFL, going out on the town can be very, shall we say, fruitful. You may meet a young lady and throughout the course of the night y'all mutually decide to leave together. You can't do that if you A) didn't drive or B) came with a group of people. So clearly you have to drive.
A lot of NFL players get there by being Type A personalities with crazy focus. Many of us also have this crazy need to be in control at all times. The game is so fickle, all but a select few of us can be here today and gone tomorrow. That's why as time goes on sometimes you learn not to get close to the new guys. After all you may both end up fighting for the last spot on the roster. Its also why many of us learn not to rely on other people, even to our own detriment. We have been told many times over that there will be people trying to get over on us and so we keep up walls and try to keep our circle tight.
Now when its time to go out you might not want to ride with someone else that may have a different idea about how the night should go. You may not want to share a limo with someone for pretty much the same reason except that in the case of a limo you would actually be paying to give up control. Therefore you rationalize that no one can look out for you better than you and you go off on your own.
There isn't anything inherently wrong with having any of those mindsets. Right up until you find yourself out-and-about and you decide to have a drink...or two. Or several. As soon as you get wherever you're going and decide to have even one drink you're screwed. It's too late.
How many drunk people have you encountered that realized they were drunk?
I've personally only encountered a handful who admitted it and that's only because those people were shitfaced.
When you're "tipsy" many of us don't consider that drunk. This, even though we likely are drunk legally (seriously, have you ever given yourself a breathalyzer when you were "tipsy"?). And even though no matter how tipsy we are at that moment it still may get worse depending on exactly how long ago we stopped drinking. We don't know when we're drunk and while we're drunk we are more likely to believe we are just fine to drive home. That is why I say if your only suggestion as to how get players to stop driving drunk is for them to call a cab I'm going to, as politely as possible, ask you to STFU and go sit in the corner whilst grown folks are trying to solve the problem.
It's not that simple.
It's never that simple.
Not for regular folks who have the money to pay for a cab ride home but choose not to and not for professional athletes. If you notice the three factors I listed above, while perhaps more prevalent with young professional athletes, can also relate to many young men between the ages of 21 and 30. All of these people have at least one thing in common in these situations, their life not just their job may be on the line. Yet people of all stripes continue to drink and drive.
Once you're drunk or even close it's the wrong time to expect you to make a wise decision. Most folks aren't going to wait for a cab or wait for a cab AND a tow truck to come get their nice car from the club lest someone break into it overnight. Not when they're "just tipsy" and that nice car of theirs works just fine. So if we want to reduce these incidents of players getting behind the wheel legally drunk then we have to get them to change their behaviors before it ever gets to the point of having to rely on them to make a sober decision while they're intoxicated.
As it pertains to NFL players I have a few suggestions I would like to make.
- First of all as a professional athlete you have to look at your life off the field as business just the same way as you look as your life in the meeting rooms and on the field as business. So many guys have all the ability in the world but let off the field problems destroy their career. Specifically something as simple as planning out their social agendas rather than being spontaneous all of the time may save their career if not their lives.
Yes you need to get that limo sometimes. Yes you need to car pool sometimes with a designated driver. Yes you have to realize that you aren't going to "get lucky" every time you go out. In the grand scheme of things making sure you can get home safe before you ever leave out the door is much more important than that anyway.
And while everyone around them, from family and friends to their agents and coaches, should make it clear to them how important it is ultimately the players have to make it a priority. As much of a priority as learning the playbook or being the best shape possible every year.
Maybe instead of just having someone talk to the rookies about it at the symposium they could also go on a tour of a morgue to see the effects of drunk driving. I know people are some times sentenced to this after they are caught but perhaps seeing something like that will make enough of an impression on these young men that they never get to that point.
- If you are going to make the decision to drive alone to the club or wherever there might be liquor served you simply have to make the decision before hand not to drink. You can't possibly know the difference between tipsy and drunk and attempting to make that distinction after you've been drinking is a fools errand. If that means leaving your credit card at home and only taking a few dollars then do that. If it means you have to avoid any places that serve alcohol then do that. And you have to stick to it. On the off chance that you find yourself in a situation where you change your mind hand your keys over to a manager or the bartender. Before you take even a sip discretely let them know who you are and what it is you do and to not let you drive yourself home. It takes a lot of self discipline to get to the NFL and even more to stay there more than a hot second. Use that same self discipline when it comes to drinking and driving because its no less important and in many ways even more so.
- It took me all of 2 minutes to find this website. Instead of waiting to have a Judge order you to put a breathalyzer in your car that disables it if you are over the limit after you have already been convicted of a DUI, why not have it installed of your own volition?
Idiot proof that nice car of yours just in case you have a few drinks and then decide to do something really dumb. I know some guys pay thousands of dollars for speakers and rims in and on their vehicles, why not pay a couple of dollars more for something like this if you know that drinking is your thing?
- You may or may not remember stories of the infamous "White House" the Cowboys players used for parties or the stories about the Giants having a similar place set up while Lawrence Taylor was playing. While those situations turned into dens of illegal drug use I think the idea wasn't a bad one on its face. If players could pool their money together for a decent sized house to use for private parties, where guys could feel comfortable I say go for it. If guys go to the party and get too drunk then they stay there and sleep it off rather than drive drunk. You can hire your own security, buy a safe for everyone to put their keys in as they come in and party for as long and as hard as everyone wants. You don't have to pay outrageous prices for bottles of champagne and if history shows us anything its that the women you are looking for in somebody else's club will find their way to players' private parties. And being that its a party by players for players there should be enough responsible guys there to keep the ones who might go a little too hard in check. Get a bunch of cheap airbeds or even something a little bit better, some alarm clocks and a stockpile of water and no one will ever need to decide between calling a cab or driving home drunk.
Now maybe some of these suggestions wouldn't make a bit of difference. Maybe none of them would. But I think its high time people got off their high horse screaming "just call a cab". Its right up there with "just say no" in my book. Its not practical when you think about the fact you're expecting a drunk person to act rationally. That means any drunk person, not just professional athletes but maybe especially them in some ways too. The reality is guys are still getting arrested for a crime that endangers not only them but whomever else is unfortunate enough to be sharing the road with them at the time, something needs to change. Yes, as a last resort you hope that person calls a cab but that's a roll of the dice with a drunk person. I am open to all suggestions but the self-righteous finger wagging devoid of any possible solutions seems to be the opposite of helpful.
We should not excuse any of the guys who get caught drinking and driving, and they should in fact be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if they're guilty. Maybe, however, we should all also try to work together to try to reduce the number of people who drive drunk to as close to zero as possible, professional athlete or not. Because isn't that the bigger issue here?
Remember this is happening almost 300,000 times a day. Something has got to give.