Death slipped through NFL safety net
BY SCHUYLER DIXON Associated Press
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
12/11/12 at 5:20 AM
IRVING, Texas - San Francisco 49ers defensive end Demarcus Dobbs walked away from a one-vehicle accident on his 25th birthday last month and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Less than two weeks later, with the NFL rocked by the car crash that killed Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown and left his teammate, Josh Brent, facing a manslaughter charge, Dobbs swears he'll find another way home whenever he does too much partying.
"I'm never going to put myself in that situation ever again," he said.
This is, of course, exactly what the NFL, its teams and the players' union wants to hear amid fresh questions about whether all the warnings and safety nets will ever be enough to prevent accidents and deaths.
"There's a lot of pressure being in the NFL ... but it's no excuse for bad decisions," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "Players have a lot of options, tools at their disposal, that they need to take advantage of, but it comes down to individuals making good decisions."
Brown's death on Saturday and the arrest of defensive tackle Brent, accused of speeding and driving while drunk, put the NFL Players Association's safe ride program back in the spotlight. It was revamped three years ago after concerns that enough players weren't using it.
Union spokesman Carl Francis said the program is a strong point of emphasis, and every player's membership card includes the contact information. And CEO John Glavin of Florida-based Corporate Security Solutions Inc., which runs the program, said he is happy with how the union gets the word out on the program.
He also stressed the confidentiality of the program, saying the company doesn't even tell the union when players call for rides.
Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis, the team's union representative, said players rarely, if ever, use the program.
"Confidentiality is the problem," Mathis said. "Guys are going to go out and have fun. We're just like the regular guy that works a 9-to-5 job. On a Friday night, he goes out and has some beer. It's not the best-case scenario, but it happens in life."
To use the program, players can either work in advance to set up a full night with a driver or make a call for a ride home. The brochure says most response times are less than an hour.
The program is available all year, and Glavin said his company also serves the NBA and NHL.
In Major League Baseball, designated drivers are available to players and fans through the teams, and the players have access to a confidential program that will take them wherever they need to go.
In the NFL, some teams rely solely on the NFLPA's program, while others have an additional system. In Cincinnati, the Bengals pay a company to make two drivers available when an employee calls.
One drives the caller home, and the other follows in the employee's vehicle.
"We can't make them make the phone call," Glavin said.
NFL's safe ride and rookie programs
The NFL Players Association has a "safe ride" program available 24 hours a day, and the league holds an annual rookie symposium for all drafted players to try to train them on life skills. Highlights of both programs:
NFLPA's safe ride program: There are two ways to use it. One is calling for pre-arranged service where driver will stay with the player(s) for the duration of the night. Another is an emergency response plan in which the company says wait times are generally less than an hour in most major cities. The cost is $90 per hour, gratuity included. The service is run through a security company and is confidential. Information for the service is on each player's membership card with the NFL Players Association.
NFL's rookie symposium: Held annually at varying sites in the summer, about a month before training camp. There were several firsts for the 2012 event in suburban Cleveland: speeches by current and former players; separate sessions for the NFC and AFC to make the group sizes smaller; and a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Featured speakers included Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Bengals cornerback Adam Jones. Both have had high-profile legal problems. The "core teaching principles" are NFL history, experience, player expectations, and professional and social responsibility. Other topics include player health and safety, decision-making and maintaining positive relationships.
- ASSOCIATED PRESS