By all accounts, Dallas Cowboys players Jerry Brown and Josh Brent were friends. And like friends do in all walks of life, not just pro athletics, they were celebrating Friday night with a drink.
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Then a drink allegedly became two and two may have become however many were required for Brent to be legally intoxicated, which police have now charged him with being when they say he sped down an Irving, Texas, highway at around 2:20 a.m., flipped his car and ultimately tried to pull his friend from the burning wreckage.
According to the police report, this was the scene officers arrived to early Saturday morning — a desperate Brent trying to save his friend. It is the one that makes my heart hurt the most, mostly because he failed.
Two friends: One is dead, the other in jail charged with being responsible for his death.
There is so much tragedy in this one decision — to drive after drinking rather than call a cab, or a friend, or somebody associated with the team. Better to call and wake Cowboys owner Jerry Jones than risk driving while intoxicated.
Yet so many Americans make the choice Brent allegedly did. The statistics should be sobering — Mothers Against Drunk Driving reporting 13,000 to 14,000 people killed by drunk drivers every single year, and such a disproportionate amount of NFL arrests dealing with vehicles and alcohol. But they are not.
We keep drinking and driving even though we know it is stupid. It was not that long ago that another Dallas Cowboys player, Dwayne Goodrich, got behind the wheel of a car after a couple of drinks. It was Jan. 14, 2003, and he stuck three Good Samaritans trying to save a man in a burning car, then fled the scene.
Two died. Goodrich ended up in prison until 2011.
He returned to the Cowboys facility this year, telling rookies his story in hopes of being a warning. Brent had to have at least heard about him being around, yet none of it resonated. The question is: Why?
Why, I believe, is explained by our reaction to Saturday’s tragedy.
A week ago, when news broke that Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had shot and killed his girlfriend and mother of his child, then turned the gun on himself at the team facility, we were quick to condemn him and draw links to guns and use the term "murderer." There was talk the league should postpone the game.
In contrast, when news broke that Brent had been charged in the death of a Cowboys practice player, there was not nearly the outrage, hand wringing or navel gazing. The prominent thought was that he made a horrible, tragic mistake.
What he made was a decision, just as Belcher did.
The results of both were tragic. Brown was going to be a dad. His child, like Belcher’s, will grow up without a father. Yes, Brown chose to get into a car with a drunk driver, but his death is no less unnecessary than Kasandra Perkins’. What makes it almost harder to stomach is how preventable it was — just a call to a friend or a taxi.
The danger is how we talk about them, Belcher being a bad guy who did an unfathomably awful thing (he did) while Brent is a good guy (and I have talked to him, he is) who made an awful mistake. And I am not sure this is useful.
I am so sick of “I did not mean to hurt you” being an excuse for every kind of wretched behavior. What you meant matters not, compared to what you did.
And I think we purposefully forget this because using a gun in an argument is incomprehensible to most of us, thus easy to demonize. Getting behind the wheel of a car after having one too many is entirely too comprehensible for many of us. We have a hard time getting all up in arms about Brent because we all know “there but for the grace of God go I.”
So we call what Brent did a mistake. When in reality, what he did was kill — his choices led to the death of another and he knew better because he already had a DUI arrest. I say this not without sympathy for him.
There is tragedy in the victim. There is also tragedy in Brent’s situation.
This is a player who, by all accounts, worked hard and had a bright future. Now he is facing a significant amount of his life in prison, not to mention the pain and regret of knowing he played a role in his friend’s death. Whatever happens in the court or going forward, I cannot imagine there will ever be a day when Brent does not relive trying to pull Brown from that car or regret getting behind the wheel or wonder why he did not call a cab.
This is the real tragedy of drunk driving, how easily preventable it is.
And this is the real reason it keeps happening — we are scared to speak too loudly about it because we know, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”