For the second straight Sunday, an NFL team is reeling from tragedy even as it prepares to play a game.
This time, the team is the Dallas Cowboys, who will play as one of their teammates faces a charge of intoxicated manslaughter after an auto accident in which another teammate was killed.
Nose tackle Josh Brent was to make his sixth start today against the Bengals in Cincinnati. But early Saturday morning, he was driving with Jerry Brown, a 25-year-old practice-squad linebacker, at a high rate of speed on a state highway when he lost control of the car, which skidded an estimated 900 feet before coming to a stop. When the police arrived, Brent was trying to pull Brown from the car, which had begun to burn.
“I am devastated and filled with grief,” Brent said in a statement through his agent, Peter Schaffer. “Filled with grief for the loss of my close friend and teammate, Jerry Brown. I am also grief-stricken for his family, friends and all who were blessed enough to have known him. I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life. My prayers are with his family, our teammates and his friends at this time.”
Bond for Brent, a three-year veteran who had urged the Cowboys to take a look at his former Illinois teammate, was to be set this morning. Brent had served jail time for a DUI arrest during his college days.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry’s family and all of those who knew him and loved him.”
The Cowboys were told that there had been an accident at the team’s Valley Ranch facility; they were told of Brown’s death during the flight to Cincinnati. He had signed with the team Oct. 24, after being released from the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad.
“We’re all just trying to get focused for tomorrow,” backup linebacker Alex Albright said (via ESPN Dallas). ”Guys are really just focused on football and coach [Jason Garrett] did a good job of addressing, we need to remember Jerry [Brown] and what’s happened, but our season is still on the line and we still need to go forward and work toward that season we want to have.”
Former Illinois coach Ron Zook told ESPN Dallas that Brent was trying to help Brown make it in the NFL. ”It was Jerry’s dream, and Josh was trying to help him any way he could,” Zook said.
The tragedy is the second in a week to befall an NFL player. One week to the day earlier, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death, then committed suicide. Later on the same day, a Cleveland Browns groundskeeper committed suicide at the team’s practice facility.
For the Cowboys, another player, Dwayne Goodrich, was involved in a car accident in which two people were killed in 2003. He was convicted on two counts of criminally negligent homicide and was released from prison in October 2011.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association offer programs for players who are out at night. The NFL has the Player Protect program, in which a player can call for a ride home.
“The NFL provides extensive substance abuse and driver’s education throughout the year as part of our ongoing mandatory life skills programs beginning in the player’s rookie season,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of player engagement, told Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today. “In addition to holding players accountable through our long-standing league discipline for substance abuse and alcohol-related violations of the law, we emphasize personal responsibility and decision-making.”
However, some players choose not to use that, fearing that there may not be confidentiality. The PA has a program that ensures confidentiality, but getting players to use it is, obviously, an issue that still must be addressed.
To my NFL brethren: On the back of your NFLPA card is the number 800-203-4731. PLEASE use this when you’re impaired & shouldn’t drive.
— Scott Fujita (@scottfujita99) December 9, 2012
From the 2010 archives: Player Protect program is there for players to use
More on the Belcher tragedy