Editor’s note: Coy Wire is a former line backer for the Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills. He left the NFL in 2010 due to a neck injury. He is the author of, “Change Your Mind: 10 Unconventional Secrets to Retrain Your Brain” and a frequent sports analyst and color commentator with Pac-12 Networks. He is on Twitter.
There has been a lot of talk recently that the NFL has a drinking problem. Of the 624 player arrests since 2000 — 42 of which came this year — 177 (28%) were because they were suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Last week, an NFL player driving under the influence of alcohol crashed his car, killing one of his teammates.
So, do NFL players have drinking problems? Perhaps some of them do, but not all of them. The men who are employed by the NFL face all the same issues that plague the rest of us. However, when NFL players get into trouble, the media sensationalizes the event.
The men in the NFL are actually well behaved compared to the rest of the American population. According to FBI statistics, there is an average of 14 DUI arrests each year among the approximately 2,000 players and practice squad players that make up the NFL. That equals to 0.7% of the NFL player population. Non-NFL players, males, ages 20-24 and 25-29 have a DUI arrest rate double that of NFL players at 1.6% and 1.4% respectively.
There is no easy explanation for substance abuse in the NFL, nor is there an excuse for it. The NFL does a great job of empowering and educating its athletes about the problems players in the past have faced. Incoming drafted rookies are given eye-opening statistics and stories about said issues at the annual Rookie Symposium. According to NFLPlayerEngagement.com:
“League personnel, expert facilitators, trained professionals, and active and former players are involved in delivering a program designed to give incoming players detailed information about transitioning from college to the professional level.
The program… offers educational life-skills workshops on topics ranging from substance abuse, sex education, domestic violence, DUI, gambling, personal finance, associations, and family issues.”
I’ve been to the Rookie Symposium. It’s intense. It’s thought-provoking. It’s eye-opening. NFL teams also provide continued education about these issues every year inside team facilities through the team’s player development programs. I still remember something I learned almost 10 years ago during my second year in the NFL: “Choices, decisions, and consequences”.
The NFL tries to quell problems before they happen. Each year, coaches and players are educated on alcohol and substance abuse as well as many other issues. The NFL uses education and discipline (fines and suspensions), and in regards to the DUI issue, they’ve even offered chauffeur services. The NFL leaves no excuses for poor decisions; it’s all about personal responsibility of the players.
So why do NFL players continue to mess up? Like Alexander Pope said, “To err is human”.
My theory is that NFL players have always succeeded in Superman-like fashion. Many have developed a personal philosophy that they are invincible. Lately, we are hearing too many tragic stories that prove these “Supermen” are not indestructible: Alcohol is the latest example of one Kryptonite that has crippled some of these men. Hopefully, the tragedies that have occurred in the past few weeks in the NFL can serve as a reminder that none of us is invincible.
Can the NFL and the NFL Players Association do more to prevent future tragedies from occurring? Probably. Should they have to? No. Again, it’s all about personal responsibility of the individual: Choices, decisions, and consequences.
What would your employer do if you got arrested for a DUI? What would your employer do if you killed someone as a result? Some organizations have zero tolerance for this type of a mess-up.
If the NFL wanted to truly make a statement, they could take a stand of zero tolerance when it comes to DUIs: If you get a DUI, you’re kicked out of the league. I bet that would get some results. Why give the guilty a second and third chance?
If the league wanted to take a firm stand, it could -- and I believe it would -- get quantifiable results.