Dec 162012

Josh BrentAs the unfortunate story of Josh Brent and Jerry Brown begins to fade from public view, I happened to read an article from Brent’s hometown newspaper, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois). On the day after Brown’s remains were put to rest in St. Louis following his death in a car driven by teammate and close friend Brent, who was highly intoxicated at the time of the crash, sports columnist Randy Kindred attempted to make the point that we should not be giving up on Brent as a person.

It’s a fair enough point. But the conclusions that Kindred reached, and the way he got there, smell of hometown apologist.

You can read the entire column here, but let me pick apart what I consider to be some poor points in Kindred’s reasoning.

Kindred begins the piece recapping the hard luck story of Brent, whose mother was struck by a disability. Brent was taken in by the family of Michael Hoomanawanui, a tight end for the New England Patriots who also has Central Illinois roots. Brent went to Champaign after high school to play for the University of Illinois. After three years with the Illini, Brent entered the supplemental draft and was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he was in his third season and beginning to emerge prior to the car wreck that ended Brown’s life and forever changed his own.

Kindred writes, “…while it is easy to pile on the 6-2, 320-pound Brent, particularly in light of a 2009 drunken driving conviction while at Illinois, you should know that this is not a malicious or horrible guy.” As if that is relevant. I am sure that prisons are full of people that are not inherently “malicious or evil” but who rather made awful decisions that led to the injury or deaths of others. It is not “piling on” to demand accountability for poor behavior, particularly when that poor behavior is not a first time occurrence. We all make mistakes, and there should be tolerance for those mistakes, and patience for us to grow as human beings. But when those mistakes are repeated, and affect other people, then I believe it is fair for our tolerance to be reduced.

Kindred writes that we should not give up on Brent as a person. Perhaps instead of using the term “let’s”, Kindred should stick to speaking for himself. I have no connection to Brent, and no real stake in whether or not his years on this planet are productive or wasteful. What I am concerned with is raising children, children that I do not want to see injured or killed by people making decisions like the one Brent made. His coming time in prison, which is richly deserved, means that there is no chance that he will harm my children or any others by getting behind the wheel of a car while effectively incapacitated. Brent has previously served a 60 day jail sentence for drunk driving, and had plenty of resources available to him to both address any drinking issues he has, as well as alternatives to driving while under the influence. As Adam “Pacman” Jones, who is no stranger to reckless behavior, indicated last week, the NFL “does a great job offering resources. We just don’t use them. I know I didn’t use mine when I was younger… This happens to a lot of young guys who come into the league. The first four years happen so fast, you never really get to catch up and realize the resources you have.”

Jones is right that the NFL is trying to address substance issues, and offers resources for its players to be successful. It is also up to the players to take advantage of them. As someone who works very directly with people who make bad decisions, I can attest to the fact that we can provide all of the resources in the world, but they mean nothing if people fail to take advantage of them. There is a responsibility on all of our parts to be personally accountable for our issues before those issues negatively impact the lives of others, something Brent failed to do despite ample warning. That should be the real lesson of this tragic story.

Kindred then states, “(W)hen his grades forced him out of the NFL after three seasons (at Illinois)…” as though the grades are some independent and self-guided third party that made a conscious decision to kick Brent out of school. Let me re-write this one for you, Randy… “When Brent failed to meet academic standards at the University of Illinois, he was forced to leave school and chose to enter the Supplemental Draft.” Brent’s grades are not independent of him, but rather a direct reflection of his academic performance. Perhaps if Brent spent more time focusing on his academics, and less time drinking, both the 2009 conviction and his fateful 2012 crash could simply be a part of some alternate Universe, rather than the one we live in. Brent made his decisions, and has no one to thank but himself for that. I know that the University of Illinois offers academic resources, as well as resources to address life issues such as alcohol use; did Brent take advantage of those?

Finally, Kindred makes the same mistake that many others have made over the past week, in linking Brent to Brown’s family, and his mother’s decision to include him in Brown’s memorial. Brown’s mother has stated that she has forgiven Brent, but let’s be clear that this is not absolution for Brent. In fact, this has far more to do with Brown’s mother than it does with seeing the good in Brent. By forgiving Brent, she is absolving herself of guilt and regret in which she otherwise might be consumed. And this forgiveness says far more about her character than it does about Brent’s. It does not negate his decision to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car. It does not wipe away the accident that cost Jerry Brown his life. And it does not mean that Brent should not spend several years in prison as a punishment for his crimes. It simply means that she is a strong person who knows what she needs to do in order to get through daily life. Frankly, I will openly admit that she is a better person than I; I am not sure that losing one of my children due to someone else’s recklessness wouldn’t poison my soul. I hope I never have the opportunity to test that theory.

So, to answer Mr. Kindred, no… society as a whole should not be giving up on Mr. Brent. But he has now placed himself in a place where he must pay for his crimes and hopefully rehabilitate himself along the way. And maybe Brent will become the feel good story of 2018, having served his time, turned his life around, and be out spreading a positive message to youth and helping other people not to repeat his own mistakes. Certainly he has the potential to serve as a deterrent to other NFL players who find themselves with similar decisions to make. I genuinely hope Brent gets his life on track, as I believe that we are all greater than the sum of our mistakes. But it seems to be way too early to be having the conversation about Josh Brent and his salvation. It’s too early to move past the awful repercussions of his actions, and the consequences that they must bear.