Can the NFL Tackle Its DUI Problem?

By McCarton Ackerman 12/10/12

"We've had enough of death to show us this is not what you do," says one linebacker.

Cowboys player Josh Brent was arrested for a
DUI that killed his teammate.
Photo via

Yet another suspected DUI death involving pro footballers is a fresh reminder to the NFL of the drinking problem it has on its hands. Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent now faces an intoxication manslaughter charge; he's accused of killing teammate Jerry Brown in a crash on Saturday. DUIs are the most common criminal offense among pro footballers: of 624 arrests of NFL players since January 2000, 28% were for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Brent's arrest is the 18th of an NFL player on suspicion of DUI this year—up from seven in 2011. And Brown's death is the third time since 1998 that an NFL player has killed someone while (at least allegedly) driving impaired. "We've all done it [driven intoxicated]," says San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes. "But it's to a point now where maybe you were ignorant and didn't know any better or felt you were invincible. We've had enough of death to show us this is what you do not do."

The problem is of course partly attributable to the demographic of NFL players: predominantly 20-something men. In fact, pro footballers are responsible for fewer DUIs per capita than this demographic in general: out of 2,000 players in the NFL, an average 14 DUI arrests each year means a rate of 0.7%, compared with 1.6% among all males aged 20-24 and 1.4% in the 25-29 category. However, the NFL offers chauffeur services to all its players, which should bring these numbers down—many players still evidently don't take advantage. "The program is there and I don't know why every player in the league wouldn't use it," says Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Shaun Smith. "I've used it before when I've been out, and I'm sure I'll use it again. Personally, I'm not going to put myself or anyone else at risk by driving drunk. You just wish everyone felt that way." Dallas Cowboys consultant Calvin Hill said his organization is considering requiring all players to have ignition interlock devices installed in their cars; the devices measure the blood-alcohol level of the driver's breath and prevent the car from starting if it's too high.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.