Are NFL safe­guards enough?

Fa­tal crash puts spot­light on the need to em­pha­size ac­ci­dent preven­tion.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - / as­so­ci­ated Press

IRV­ING — 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 — be­cause play­ers in most of the ma­jor sports leagues ar­guably have more than the gen­eral pub­lic — 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 Josh Brent af­ter po­lice say he caused the fa­tal wreck by speed­ing and driv­ing 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 CB 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.

Last sum­mer, the NFL held its 15th an­nual rookie ori­en­ta­tion, which in­cludes a num­ber of life skills ses­sions.

For the first time, sep­a­rate ses­sions were held for the AFC and NFC to make the groups smaller, and cur­rent and former play­ers were brought in as speak­ers, in­clud­ing Philadel­phia quar­ter­back Michael Vick and Cincin­nati cor­ner­back Adam Jones. Both have had high-pro­file le­gal prob­lems, with Vick spend­ing time in prison in a dog­fight­ing case.

Tony Gutierrez

Tire skid marks re­main af­ter a wreck Satur­day in which Dal­las Cow­boys prac­tice squad mem­ber Jerry Brown was killed. The Cow­boys’ Josh Brent was charged

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