Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Position of influence, under the influence

Won't someone please think of the children?
5th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Justin Blackmon, was arrested on June 3rd for driving under the influence in Stillwater, Oklahoma. A breath analysis showed his blood-alcohol content to be three times the legal limit. Today, his defense attorney appeared in court to withdraw his not-guilty plea and enter a guilty plea. From
Special Judge Michael Stano accepted Blackmon's plea and imposed a deferred sentence of one year, meaning Blackmon will serve no jail time if he fulfills the terms of his sentence. Among other things, Blackmon must pay a $500 fine and $100 to a drug abuse and treatment fund as well as court costs. He must also complete 50 hours of community service and fulfill other plea requirements by Jan. 24.
The article goes on to state that he is going to submit to several urine tests over the next six months, and will have an ignition interlock device on his vehicle for the next two years. It also goes on to say that his is incredibly apologetic, is going to abstain from drinking for the foreseeable future, and promises that "This will never happen again".
This is something we hear about all too often in professional sports. To me, reports are starting to look like this:
In the off-season, [insert player name] was arrested for DUI with a blood alcohol level [insert absurdly high number] times the legal limit. He has been given a fine of [insert a drop in the bucket], and will serve one Real Housewives marathon worth of community service (most of which will be spent doing photo-ops or with his face in his Blackberry). The community service will start at the time of his choosing (probably the following off-season or right after an injury sidelines him for a stretch).
AND WAIT WHAT? His attorney was going to enter a non-guilty plea as if it was an accident? It is not an accident to drink enough to put you three times over the limit and get in a car, it is a choice. It's a remarkably stupid choice, one that is made by far too many people every single day. It can be avoided. As soon as you get behind the wheel, whether or not you've had a drink, you are responsible for the safety and well being for you, the passengers in your car, and to a certain degree, the general public. When sober, the vehicle can be equated to a gun with the safety on. When drunk, that vehicle becomes a grenade with the pin pulled 95 percent of the way out.

I understand that he is going to submit to urine tests and his vehicle is going to be under restrictions for two years. I understand that he has apologized and is going to abstain from alcohol for a while. I also understand that everyday people fight drunk driving tickets on a regular basis. What I don't understand is when professional athletes are faced with DUI charges, their punishment does not reflect their impact on impressionable people in society. If an athlete is charged with a DUI, would a harsh penalty not help deter young people from doing the same?

Justin Blackmon is due to report for training camp tomorrow, and has yet to sign a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. When he does, one can assume that it will be for a decent amount of money (2010's 5th overall pick Eric Berry signed for 6 years, $60MM), and he can afford more than a $500 fine and $100 donation. Why not require that a percentage of his pay go towards MADD or a similar institution as a part of his sentencing? If he is going to perform community service, why not time it so that it coincides with a mid-season game?

I realize that it's easy for me to sit here in front of a laptop and say "throw the book at him!" when the average joe in Stillwater probably faces the same penalties as Blackmon, but he is a person of influence. He is looked up to. Just the same as Shin-Soo Choo is, and Miguel Cabrera is, and half of the Detroit Lions are (although they finally cut ties with a repeat offender), as well as Jason Kidd, and Kenny Britt, and Marshawn Lynch... the list goes on, those are just some of the more recent and memorable offenders.

This post isn't about how much money a professional athlete can afford to pay victims of drunk driving accidents, and it's not about demanding they stop drinking alcohol - because that's not why DUIs happen. It's about making better choices and realizing that even at a young age, there are young fans that look up to them. They have a responsibility whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not.

There very well could be an aspiring wide receiver somewhere in Jacksonville thinking if his new idol can get away with putting lives at risk for $600, so can he, but instead of the pin pulled 95 percent of the way out of the grenade, it's going to be yanked right out and it's not getting put back in.

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