EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In his two years as Minnesota Vikings coach, Leslie Frazier has tried to add calm and stability to an organization once known for frequent off-field issues.
Frazier has let his steady demeanor take root on a team that has largely avoided problems that in the past have become disruptions. The Vikings have still had their share of off-field incidents since Frazier took over as the team’s coach with six games left in the 2010 season, but things in Minnesota seem to be settling down as how to best combat drinking and driving has become a topic of conversation around the league. Last weekend, Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter after the car he was driving crashed and killed teammate Jerry Brown, and the Vikings – like most teams – have discussed how to prevent such tragedy.
“I do talk to our players about their behavior in the building, out of the building, what your standards are,” Frazier said. “We have a code of conduct here with the Minnesota Vikings that we take our players through. During the season, in light of what has most recently happened, I have talked to our guys and will talk to them again this week about taking care of themselves away from the building. Tragic situations. Your heart goes out to people that were involved. But, yes, we do constantly talk to our players about their behavior.”
The NFL and teams have safeguards in place to keep players from driving while intoxicated, but as the cases continue to pile up, the resources often go unused.
“It’s kind of part of the culture,” Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said Wednesday. “We’re raised to feel invincible out on the football field…You have that mindset that, ‘Oh, nothing can ever happen to me because I’m so good at what I do.’ But in reality, when you’re judgment’s impaired and you get behind the wheel of a two-ton automobile, it doesn’t matter how fast you run a 40 (yard dash). Physics is going to take its course.”
The Vikings’ resources include a service to call for free rides home to prevent DWIs. Kluwe said everything possible is done to make sure players don’t put themselves in harm’s way. Kluwe, who is not afraid to share his opinions about any topic, controversial or otherwise, believes it’s on the players to make the right choices.
“I think the league does plenty,” Kluwe said of the number of DWIs around the league. “It ultimately comes down at the end of the day to: Are guys going to do the right thing or not? You can only lead a horse to water so many times. It’s an awful saying at the end, but you can’t make him drink if he doesn’t want to. So, if guys are going to do the right thing, it’s because they want to do the right thing.”
The Vikings are no strangers to DWI cases. In Frazier’s tenure, Minnesota has had backup quarterback Rhett Bomar and safety Tyrell Johnson charged last year and fullback Jerome Felton charged this season. Previously, the Vikings dealt with DWI arrests of Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Koren Robinson and Kenny Mixon over the past eight years. Even former coach Brad Childress’ son, Kyle, was arrested in January 2010.
But it’s not for Minnesota’s lack of trying or not having the necessary resources in place. Rookie safety Harrison Smith said it’s a priority with the Vikings and in the NFL and noticed it right away.
“I think at the (rookie) symposium, they cover pretty much every topic you could,” Smith said. “There’s only so much you can tell people and the rest is (up to them). … Some guys are going to do this that or the other, and if they do (Minnesota) does a good job of saying if you do that, please call us if you need them. There’s always someone you can call to help you.”
Some players wonder whether making such calls can end up backfiring, with team leadership or coaches finding out about such issues. Kluwe believes players need to get over that fear and wonders how, in the case of Brent, this was happening the evening before a game.
“Well, first off they should be asking themselves why they’re drinking the night before a game,” Kluwe said. “That’s not going to help your playing time. Secondly, it’s much more important to be safe and do the right thing than to worry about possibly getting a fine or your coaches finding out because it’s completely confidential. There are security guys. They’re not going to tell the coaches because they realize if word of that gets out, no one is going to use it. Their main concern is keeping guys safe.
“At the end of the day, would you rather have been fined $5,000 for being out late or be in jail for four to five years and having to live with the death of someone that was your best friend? I mean, when you weight the consequences, call someone.”