Litke: Is NFL responsible for tragic deaths?
By The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, 9:18 p.m.
For the second straight weekend, tragedy rocked the regularly scheduled world of the NFL.
It left families, friends, teammates and coaching staffs grieving over yet another senseless loss of life.
It also 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.
In the early-morning hours Saturday, 24-year-old Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent got behind the wheel of his Mercedes alongside teammate Jerry Brown and sped off, the prelude to a one-car accident that would leave Brown dead at 25 and Brent sitting in jail facing a felony charge of intoxicated manslaughter.
That it happened just a week after Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death, then drove to the Chiefs' training facility and took his own life with the same gun, raised questions about the league's responsibility to the young men it empowers and enriches.
“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,” said Dan Reeves, who played seven years for the Cowboys before launching an NFL coaching career that included four stops over four decades. “As a coach, you've got more than 50 players, if you count practice squad guys, that you're trying to keep an eye on. ... It's easy to get lulled into thinking you know which ones need a pat on the back and which ones a kick in the behind.”
How the NFL responds to this latest tragedy remains to be seen. Earlier this summer, cognizant of both the rising number of domestic violence and DUI incidents involving players, commissioner Roger Goodell pledged to address both problems.
“We are going to do some things to combat this problem because some of the numbers on DUIs and domestic violence are going up, and that disturbs me,” he told CBS Sports. “When there's a pattern of mistakes, something has got to change.”
In several important ways, player conduct already has improved significantly since Goodell took over the league.
In 2006, Goodell's first season, 68 players were arrested for crimes more severe than a traffic violation. Since then, arrests for crimes including domestic violence, drunken driving and gun possession are down 40 percent.
Yet, as Goodell noted, the number of incidents in the last year have climbed at an alarming rate — according to one study, 21 of the league's 32 teams had at least one player charged with domestic violence or sexual assault — and the tragedies involving players on successive weekends has already prompted accusations that the league isn't doing nearly enough.
“From here on, they're in uncharted waters,” Reeves said. “No one can point the best way forward. I was lucky in that sense: We never had to deal with the nightmare of losing a friend and teammate. One thing I'm certain of, though — it's going to haunt some of them for a long time to come.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Agent confirms Mendenhall retiring from NFL
- NFL notebook: Jets cut former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes
- Ex-Colts executive Polian: Approach free agency with caution