What happened in Dallas on Dec. 8 of this year is one of the most heartbreaking stories in the NFL this year. Early that morning, Dallas Cowboy nose tackle Josh Brent was driving through the city with teammate Jerry Brown, hit a curb, traveled 900 feet, and burst into flames. Brown died, and Brent, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 (more than twice the legal limit in Texas) was arrested.
It’s a horrible story anyway, but it’s a story made worse with the addition of two more facts. First, it’s not Brent’s first DUI; he was arrested back in 2009 for the same offense while at the University of Illinois (it was a misdemeanor charge, and Brown did 30 days in jail). Second, Brown was Brent’s best friend; the two were college teammates at Illinois as well.
For his crime, Brent is almost certainly going to go to prison, perhaps for as much as 20 years – as well he should. It’s estimated that he consumed as many as 14 drinks that night. Nobody should have to be told not to drive under those conditions, and certainly, not somebody who’d already been jailed for the same offense once. Nobody’s disputing those facts.
What has been the subject of debate, however, is whether the Cowboys should have let Brent, who attended at the urging of several teammates, on the sidelines for the Cowboys’ 27-24 victory over the Steelers. There are great points to be made on both sides of the issue, as ESPN’s Steven A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Hugh Douglas recently debated. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably summed it up best in a statement to the Dallas Morning News this week.
“There’s not a bright line,” Jones said. “We’re going to let this seek the same thing that you’d have seek the direction it would go as if it were a family.”
Perhaps Jones and the Cowboys have taken a cue from Brown’s mother, who urged that people forgive Brent from the very beginning. She even had Brent meet her at the airport and ride to the funeral. It would be difficult for even the best of mothers to show this kind of grace before they bury their child.
Brent has been devastated over his own actions, and will have to live with his guilt the rest of his life. The question is, what kind of life will it be?
No doubt, prison will be a tough ordeal, especially for someone used to living the NFL’s high life. In spite of the reform that’s supposed to be going on, many emerge from prison as worse people. Of course, when you’re surrounded by criminals 24 hours a day, it shouldn’t be surprising.
That’s what makes Dallas’s show of support so important. Brent needs a support group of people to encourage him and help lead him in the right direction. What’s done is done; it’s about salvaging things going forward. Here’s hoping his teammates will be there for him still once he’s behind bars.
Christmas is a time for us all to reflect and be thankful for what we have – and nothing is more important than having people in our lives who care about us. While Brent’s life is about to change for the worst going forward, let’s hope that his final moments as a free man continue to be a reminder of that, and that the love the organization shows him is enough to carry him through to a better place on the other side.