For the second straight week, an NFL player lies dead, the victim of a seemingly avoidable sequence of actions that was unfortunately not avoided. Jerry Brown lies dead at the age of 25, the result of a one-car accident with his teammate Josh Brent at the wheel and drunk. And while the circumstances surrounding his death and that of Javon Belcher are vastly different, there is something similar: missed signs.
From ESPN’s Dan Graziano:
“Drunk driving is as selfish, avoidable and inexcusable a crime as there is… The decision to get behind the wheel of a car after you’ve had too much to drink is flatly irresponsible… The decision to get behind the wheel of a car after you’ve had too much to drink is flatly irresponsible — whether you play NFL football or not. But there were a number of NFL drunk-driving cases this offseason, from the Giants’ David Diehl to the Lions’ Nick Fairley to the Jaguars’ Justin Blackmon. And while none of those cases resulted in anyone getting injured or killed, this is not the first case in league history that has. It 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 drunk-driving cases the league still deals with serves as a reminder that the message isn’t sinking in.”
Graziano is right. But, at the same time, I think he misrepresents the mindset that goes into people’s “decision” to drive drunk. I say this because I have driven drunk. I thank my lucky stars that I suffered no consequences of this decision, physical, legal, or otherwise. I put decision in quotes there because, in my experience, the perpetrator of this admittedly irresponsible decision is rarely making a conscious decision to drive drunk. Rather, they are making a supremely poor assessment of their own impairment. The drunk driver does not think to himself, “I am drunk but I will drive anyway.” He thinks, “I feel fine. I can drive.” It is this poor self-assessment and lack of self-awareness that makes it so easy to repeat the mistake.
Because of America’s drinking laws and the resultant drinking culture, most of us learn to drink without models for how to do so responsibly. This means that most of what we do when it comes to drinking we do poorly. At the top of this list is an understanding of alcohol’s effect on our body.
I don’t say any of this to excuse Josh Brent’s actions. He made a series of bad choices and a man is dead because of it, with Brent’s life also irrevocably changed. I say this because as long as we view drunk driving as something only stupid, irresponsible people do, we are all more likely to do it. As long as we think we would never actively choose to drive drunk, we are all more likely to do so. As long as we fail to understand the signs of intoxication, we are all more likely to fall victim to its effects.
Signs were missed regarding Javon Belcher’s mental state and now two people are dead and an infant orphaned. Signs were missed regarding Josh Brent’s intoxication and one person is dead and another likely headed to jail for a very long time. Mental illness and intoxication are two things our society does a piss poor job at. And our failings in these areas are fatal.