Former Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent has proven, if not beyond a shadow of a legal doubt then at least anecdotally, that he does not know when to say when.
I base this solely on the facts as alleged by prosecutors in his intoxication manslaughter case set to go to trial in September, namely that he got behind the wheel of his Mercedes last December with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system and killed his teammate and best friend, Jerry Brown Jr., in the ensuing wreck. Since that time, Brent has twice tested positive for marijuana, the second leading to his bail being revoked for a while.
So excuse me if I do not buy his decision to retire Thursday, two days before the Cowboys report to training camp and 221 days after his tragic and fatal wreck, as a man finally realizing his needed to focus on “major priorities.” Nor does this have the Cowboys’ fingerprints all over it.
Brent walking away just feels very much like a Roger and the NFL saying “y’all handle this, or we will,” and thankfully so. After so many people in this Brent tragedy demonstrated an inability to know when to say when, the NFL did.
Whatever foibles the league has demonstrated with regard to player safety, it has handled its business when it comes to the drinkers and the drivers and dangers to public safety. The Broncos’ response to a pair of team execs being busted for DUI, while not swift, was harsh. And the tacit approval given by the league in the form of “there will be no further action necessary by the league” suggested that exactly that was planned if Denver did not handle this appropriately.
This is Roger and the league at their very best. This is exactly how to handle a Josh Brent scenario.
The truth is Brent should have made this decision a long time ago, to walk away and focus on what happened and his defense. And if he was unwilling or unable to do so, the Cowboys should have made it for him.
I know they made a promise to Brown’s mom not to release Brent. I know she has been Brent’s biggest advocate, showing grace I am not sure I’d be capable of in publicly forgiving Brent. What I also know is staying on the team was not in the best interest of the Cowboys, and possibly even Brent.
This was not depraved indifference by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, though, he has been skewered pretty thoroughly both at home and abroad in the other 49. If there is any fault here with him, it is that he is too loyal. Brent was a popular Cowboy, a good guy by all accounts and his mistake – driving drunk – is one that is easily relatable. Every time a player drinks and drives and gets busted, the collective feeling around the league is “there but for the grace of God go I.”
All of his, plus Brent’s talent and youth (he’s 25), is why the Cowboys stayed with him as long as they did. It is why they had him on the sideline for a half in a game last season until public reaction became untenable and he left voluntarily. It is why, I believe, he was still a question mark as of Thursday. The hope was there would be a plea deal, or a way around this tragedy.
And therein lies the screw-up. The message the Cowboys needed to send was that some mistakes cannot be undone, that knowing when to say when is crucial and when to designate a driver is non-negotiable.
I asked an NFL player on Thursday why, with all of the resources players have available, do they not call a cab or a teammate or the PA service or, in this case, Jerry Jones himself?
Why risk the possibility of losing millions, of living a lifetime of regret, of being forced into retirement at 25?
His answer was, yes, sometimes, by the time they need a cab, it is too late to realize they need a cab. What he also said, though, is there is still a feeling that players will be penalized if they admit they have been partying and drinking too much. The fear is the cabbie videos them, or the anonymous ride will not be so anonymous, or the ride from the PA or team comes with a pink slip down the line.
The message that has to be sent is the one my mom sent me back in high school. You can call me, without consequences, if you are drunk and need a ride, if your ride is drunk. What you cannot expect is zero consequences if you do not.
This was why not releasing Brent was a mistake. It is why the NFL finally had to know when to say when, because to keep him sent a false message of accountability.
It’s a mistake.
Keep smoking weed.
Your spot is safe.
We have your back.
Josh Brent was never going to know when to say when. It is why the league had to and why it did exactly the right thing.