In Wake Of Second Off-Field Incident In As Many Weeks, Media Examines NFL Policies
The NFL has been a league that has "talked about player safety, player conduct and the value of 'protecting the shield,'" but in the aftermath of the second death of an active NFL player in two weeks, it is "time to rethink how it's addressing some of the less discussed issues affecting its brand," according to Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com. Cowboys DT Josh Brent has been charged with intoxicated manslaughter following a drunk-driving accident that killed teammate Jerry Brown. That comes just one week after the murder-suicide involving Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher. The "dirtiest of the NFL's little secrets -- drunken driving, domestic violence and guns -- have become major headlines," and the time for "relegating them to secondary status in the news cycle has passed." The problem is these issues "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." Chadiha: "One tragic death is already too many for the NFL. Two lets people know 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?" The league is "supposed to hold itself to a higher standard," something Goodell "is always preaching." If the NFL "truly is going to carry that mantle, it needs to take the lead on these issues." The league must "start cracking down in ways that will elicit significant changes." Talk to enough people in the league office and they will "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" (ESPN.com, 12/8). The AP's Jim Litke wrote recent incidents have "left the league facing questions not only about efforts to safeguard players on the field but whether it's doing enough to help them stay out of harm's way once they step outside the white lines" (AP, 12/9).
CONSTANT EDUCATION: NFL VP/Player Engagement Troy Vincent said that alcohol education "is a cornerstone of the league's rookie education program." Vincent said, "That particular subject matter is one that is a constant. There is constant education." USA TODAY's Lindsay Jones noted prior to the season, each team "holds a meeting for all coaches and players in which league officials as well as law enforcement officials discuss alcohol, banned substances, prescription drugs and guns" (USATODAY.com, 12/8). ESPN.com's Dan Graziano wrote Brown's death "serves as a reminder of why it's so important for the league to make its players aware of the seriousness of the issue, and the number of drunken driving cases the league still deals with serves as a reminder that the message isn't sinking in." The NFL and the NFLPA "would do well to make this issue a higher, more public priority going forward than they have in the past" (ESPN.com, 12/8). Former NFLer and former coach Dan Reeves said, "I don't know that anybody has the answer, to be honest. They're human beings, kids in most of the cases like this, and they're going to make mistakes" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/10). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley noted NBC's Bob Costas and Tony Dungy last night "talked about what coaches in the NFL can do about warning players about drinking and driving." Costas said, "Drinking and driving is a societal problem to be sure, but it's perhaps even more difficult to understand when it involves a football player" (JSONLINE.com, 12/9).
THE SAFE RIDE PROGRAM: CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman noted the NFL's Safe Rides program "has all but died." It is still "available for players to use with services provided by the union and teams," but many players "don't use it because of distrust." Some players "suspect -- wrongly -- that teams place hidden microphones in the cars or the drivers sell information to tabloid newspapers." There is "no proof this happens but players believe it so they refuse to use the team sponsored service." Several NFLers indicated that fellow players are "not using the union provided service as much as they should" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/8). ESPN's Chris Mortensen noted players fear they "will have their activity monitored and be held accountable for how frequently they go out, what time they're leaving the clubs and certainly where they were visiting." They feel that "some of that confidentiality would be breached" ("Sunday NFL Countdown," ESPN, 12/9). Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Debbie Weir said that a three-year-old partnership between MADD and the NFL "consists primarily of game-day efforts to educate fans." Weir said that of the NFL's 32 teams, only the Steelers and Buccaneers "use MADD's services to educate players on the dangers of drunk driving" (USATODAY.com, 12/8).
STRONGER DETERRENT NEEDED: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the NFL can "deter DUI incidents by dramatically increasing the punishment." Currently, a first offense "results in a fine equivalent to two game checks, barring aggravating circumstances." A source said that the league has "pushed hard for a two-game suspension for a first offense, but the union has resisted." The source said that the parties had "agreed to a one-game suspension plus a one-game fine last year for a first offense, but the finalization of that agreement has been bogged down by the parties' inability to agree to the procedures for HGH testing" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/8).
BETTER RATES THAN AVERAGE POPULATION: USA TODAY's Brent Schrotenboer writes the NFL "is better behaved compared to the general population." Of about 2,000 NFLers per season, 14 DUI arrests are made a year for "a rate of 0.7%." By contrast, according to FBI statistics for '11, males ages 20-24 and 25-29 each "have a DUI rate of double that, at 1.6% and 1.4%, respectively." However, the league "recognizes it has a problem on its hands, especially as it tries to repair its image as it relates to crime and player safety" (USA TODAY, 12/10). N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said there have been “more NFL players who have killed people being drunk behind the wheel of a car than have shot their girlfriend” and then committed suicide. Lupica: “You can’t call it an epidemic, but it keeps happening and happening and happening and at some point the league has to take a look at this particular issue harder than it has in the past” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN2, 12/9).
WAKE-UP CALL: In Oakland, Monte Poole wrote under the header, "NFL Needs To Take The Lead In Trying To Curb Violent Off-Field Behavior Of Its Players." Poole: "Domestic violence is more prevalent than breast cancer -- and can be just as deadly. It's time for the NFL to put its full tonnage behind this scourge, from education campaigns to abuser interventions to counseling programs to public service announcements." The league "knows too much to plead ignorance" and "has to recognize this and feel an obligation to react." Just as former NFLer Junior Seau's suicide "sounded an alarm on behalf of silently suffering retired players," the Belcher murder-suicide is the "piercing wake-up call on behalf of deeply troubled active players" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 12/9).