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      The NFL's Creeping DUI Problem
      Photo by Flickr user Erik Drost
      July 7, 2014

      The NFL's Creeping DUI Problem

      Between smoking marijuana and driving a car while under the influence of alcohol, which poses a greater threat to public safety? Which poses a greater threat to an NFL player's career?

      It's hardly breaking news that some NFL players—just like folks in other walks of life—love to drink and then get behind the wheel of a car. You probably know someone who did that very thing this past weekend. Especially if you know Josh Gordon.

      Johnny Manziel rolling bills in a Vegas bathroom? Read more here.

      The Browns wide receiver was arrested and charged after being pulled over for speeding in Raleigh this weekend. He reportedly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.09, just over the legal limit in North Carolina. It's bad news for a guy that already appealed a marijuana suspension that would force him to miss all of 2014.

      The NFL seems always have more players in jail or on drugs, and they always will. With all 32 teams carrying rosters of 90 players at this point in this season, that's almost three thousand young, aggressive dudes that have been conditioned toward a different standard of living. That is, a more relaxed set of consequences, both with pot and alcohol, among other things.

      Some NFL players have, arguably, beaten the system when it comes to driving under the influence. Leonard Little, at the age of 24, blew a 0.19 after he killed a woman when he crashed into her car in Missouri in 1998. He got probation and played the following season. 

      Wide receiver Donte Stallworth struck and killed a male pedestrian in Florida in 2009. He blew a 0.12 shortly after the incident. He reached a financial agreement with the man's family and avoided significant jail time. After a one-year suspension, he returned to the NFL and has played in 20 games since his release. And we could go on.

      The NFL needs to worry less about what players are putting in their own bodies and more about when players (and owners) might be endangering the public.

      But the players aren't the only ones boozing and cruising. Denver Broncos front office executive Matt Russell was sentenced to seven months in jail after driving into a police vehicle last summer with an open container in the car. Russell blew a whopping .246, which is not only three times the legal limit in Colorado, but also probably higher than your college GPA. After Russell's sentencing in May, the Broncos offered a public show of support.

      But the league has taken a much harder line on substance "abuse." Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon missed the first four games of his second season in the league after a substance abuse suspension. He was suspended again that same season and is unlikely to join the team for 2014.

      And of course there's Jim Irsay, the eccentric Indianapolis Colts owner who was arrested for DUI and drug possession in March. Irsay's fate with the NFL remains undetermined, to the criticism of the league and of its commissioner.

      Wide receiver LaVon Brazill, a wide receiver who would have entered his third season with Irsay's Colts, will sit out for all of 2014 on a substance-abuse suspension. He won't get paid the $570,000 that was due to him this season. Brazill was quoted by ESPN last year, "It's either money or marijuana. I know any of you would choose money any day."

      Colt Lyerla's second chance. Read more here.

      Brazill had different ideas.

      Some take the differences between Irsay's stay in limbo and Brazill's ouster as a double standard. Even in Indianapolis, columnist Bob Kravitz is posing the question everyone else is asking. "How do you welcome back Irsay with open arms, surround him with support and love and good feelings, and reduce Brazill to some moron who just doesn't have the self-control to lay off the weed?"

      It's a fair question, but calling this is double standard isn't perfectly true. Both the NFL's collective bargaining agreement and its nebulous personal conduct policy are clear. Brazill violated the CBA with his first positive test in 2013. And then he did it again.

      The NFL's process and punishment for dealing with those first and second offenses have been established, and originally were put in place with the design of curbing player behavior. Despite one's personal feelings on weed, it's still illegal in 48 states. If a player—knowing full well that he stands to lose a year's salary if he's caught with marijuana in his system—continues to smoke weed with such a penalty in place, how many would do so without it?

      The NFL's personal conduct policy is a weapon that for better or worse has come to define Roger The Red's tenure as owner, and one that some are calling for him to drop that "Ginger Hammer" on Irsay. Goodell's proposed eight-game suspension and $1 million fine seem light, not only in comparison to recent suspensions levied against players, but against owners. NBA commissioner Adam Silver had barely unpacked his office before dropping a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling in a case with more shades of gray than Irsay's.

      Goodell has established precedent for stripped draft picks from teams with more comprehensive issues. Spygate. Bountygate. Those were missteps on an institutional level, borne from the search of a competitive advantage on the field. They had nothing to do with an owner trying to get high. Because most owners haven't been caught trying to do that sort of thing.

      But the league has lightened up to an extent, having recently announced that they'll raise the threshold for what counts as a positive test, and lighten suspensions for the guys that still get flagged. It's a progressive move and one that will save the NFL a few headaches while reading offseason headlines.

      While the league controls the scales for drug testing, they have no such latitude for DUIs. With national enforcement as rampant as it has ever been, players driving under the influence are as likely as ever to be caught, either from being pulled over or from being pulled from a crash site. It's here where the league needs to act more.

      The NFL says it needs to sort out its testing for human growth hormone before it can put a DUI policy in place, which is downright laughable. The league needs to worry less about what players are putting in their own bodies and more about when those players (and owners) might be endangering the public. Let players stay at home and smoke weed. Leonard Little and Donte Stallworth might not have stayed home during their respective nights of infamy, but they surely would have appreciated the option. 


      Josh is a freelance sportswriter, analyst and host. You may know him from such websites as Deadspin, Kissing Suzy Kolber, With Leather,, and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @JoshZerkle.

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