Ethics Quiz: The Murderer On The Sidelines

Support the man, not the drunk-driving killer, who also happened to BE the man. Right?

Support the man, not the drunk-driving killer, who also happened to BE the man. Right?

Eight days after he was locked up for manslaughter as a result of being drunk at the wheel in a car accident that took the life of a team mate, Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent was allowed on the sidelines with his team during its game against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Brent’s teammates had requested that he be present to show their support, and apparently this had the blessing of Jerry Brown’s mother, whose deceased son was the victim in the crash.

ESPN commentator Dan Graziano took to his keyboard to pronounce the Cowboys public embrace of a player charged with killing someone while driving drunk misguided and wrong:

“I fully support the idea of his friends and loved ones supporting him as he deals with the consequences of his rotten, stupid, selfish, inexcusable actions. I just don’t think he should be there on the sideline during nationally televised football games.

“I think it sends the wrong message, plain and simple. Drunken driving is already a crime too easily swept under the rug, by our society and our sports leagues. Teams and leagues in position to make a strong public statement about the seriousness of drunken driving have not. Stricter penalties can and should be imposed, but they are not. And while I don’t think the Cowboys were condoning drunken driving by publicly welcoming Brent back so soon, they certainly weren’t taking a strong stand against it. And that’s the point. There are plenty of ways to show compassion and support and forgiveness. There are six days a week when the Cowboys aren’t on TV at all. If they want Brent around them in the locker room, or on the practice field, so he knows they’re there to prop him up, that’s their perfect right as his friend and as fellow human beings.

“But when the players and/or Brown’s mother went to the Cowboys and said they wanted Brent on the sideline, the Cowboys (or the NFL, for that matter) should have said no. They should have considered the request and all of the valid emotional reasons behind it, but ultimately the Cowboys and the NFL should have made the decision based on their existence as very public entities. They should have said, “While we appreciate your desire to show this young man support, this is not a way in which we are comfortable doing so, because it sends the wrong message about where we stand on the acceptability of the crime with which he is charged.” The idea that the grieving mother should get to decide who stands on the sideline at a Cowboys game is a poor leap of logic. The Cowboys ultimately decided this was OK, and they should have decided otherwise.”

Your Ethics Quiz Question:

Is Graziano right?

I think he is, especially on the issue of society refusing to treat drunk driving as seriously as it should be, not making a sufficiently strong cultural statement that it is unacceptable, and failing to shun as pariahs those who engage in it, whether the conduct kills someone or not.

Try this thought experiment: if Brent has been arrested for rape, would he be allowed on the sidelines, even if his victim, a big Cowboys fan, gave her approval? What if Brent had been caught with a 10-year-old boy in the shower, like Jerry Sandusky?  Would it still be acceptable for the team to support him so publicly? Suppose he had beaten up his wife or girlfriend, or for that matter, imagine that he had made a racial, anti-Semitic or homophobic slur that resulted in a suspension by the NFL.  If the Cowboys allowed Brent to be seen with the team so soon after these episodes, the media would be screaming in protest. Yet drunk driving is as great and destructive a social problem as any of these—it’s just that alcohol abuse and football go hand in hand, and no matter how much formal and routine condemnation of drunk driving we hear in public service announcements, too many sports fans still treat irresponsible conduct like Brent’s— rotten, stupid, selfish, inexcusable pretty much covers itwith a generous attitude that is softened by the sense that but for moral luck, this could be happening to them. Manslaughter is a form of homicide, and homicide resulting from behavior that one knows is dangerous and illegal should be condemned with as much public fervor as any of the misconduct listed above. It isn’t. The Cowboys’ actions proves that it isn’t.

Until it is, the culture that tacitly shrugs away drunk driving will remain, and people like Mrs. Brown’s son will keep dying on the roads.


Pointer: Patrice Roe

Facts: ESPN

Graphic: NBC News

13 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Murderer On The Sidelines

  1. From the article.

    The Cowboys had Brent with them on the sideline Sunday, eight days after he was in jail on intoxication manslaughter charges for the accident that cost teammate Jerry Brown his life.

    He had not even been tried yet, let alone convicted. While certainly they should shun him if it turns out there is a preponderance of evidence that he is guilty, at this time there is no obligation to do so.

    • Yeah, yeah. He was driving the car, he was drunk, and the passenger died. He may plead, there may be prosecutoral lenience, but this is isn’t a case where there is any question of guilt. Please don’t play that game. This isn’t Columbo. None of the elements of the crime are disputed. This one doesn’t even warrant “alleged.”

      • And in the “give me a break”, category, I suppose, following your logic, that Penn State should have let Jerry Sandusky keep his office on campus to show its “support” while he was out on bail before his trial? And Sandusky really hadn’t been proven guilty, and in fact denied his guilt. This wasn’t and isn’t true of Brent. Can he deny that he was intoxicated? No. Can he deny he was driving? No. While drunk? No. Can he deny his passenger is dead? No. Because of the accident? Can’t deny it. So what, exactly, are you talking about except a formality? And distinguish the Sandusky situation, please.

        • And in the “give me a break”, category, I suppose, following your logic, that Penn State should have let Jerry Sandusky keep his office on campus to show its “support” while he was out on bail before his trial?

          They did exactly that in 1998, when he was accused of that crime then.

          I am not suggesting that guilt has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in this specific context- just that there be a preponderance of evidence.

          This wasn’t and isn’t true of Brent. Can he deny that he was intoxicated? No. Can he deny he was driving? No. While drunk? No. Can he deny his passenger is dead? No. Because of the accident? Can’t deny it.

          What is wrong with waiting and seeing?

  2. Graziano is right. But unfortunately, the team has forgiven him quickly, apparently most of the fans have forgiven him, and more importantly the victim’s family has forgiven him.

    This is less an indictment on just the team, as much as it is an indictment on the whole Football Culture, and larger entertainment industry. When part of a mass movement within which individuals can lose their own responsible virtue to the common ‘soul’, it is easy to marginalize the loss of one life since “hey, everyone’s cool with it, why not me?”

    (PS… the same sentiment was shared by people in Germany in the early and mid 30’s and in Russia in the mid 10’s to early 20’s)

  3. Yes, Graziano is right. Brent had just killed a a member of his team because he did something illegal. No, what happened to Brent could not happen to any ONE of us. Some of us choose not to drink and drive. No, it was not a mistake. A miscalculation on a math assignment is a mistake. Drinking and driving is a choice. No, even the “he is suffering more than anyone and needs our support” rationalization was not enough to make that sick feeling in my stomach go away when I saw Brent on the sidelines. That sick feeling is my gut instinct telling me that something is not right.

  4. You KNOW if Tom Landry were still around big D there’s no way this could have gone down that way. Real people instinctively understand ethics and scammers choose not to understand.

  5. I am waiting for Josh Brent to be referred to as a ‘victim’ of this accident. It makes it hard to get anyone take this seriously. Yes, they decry drunk driving, but when someone they know does it, they blow it off. My stepson got caught DUI earlier this year and it has been tough to get him to take it seriously. People tell him everyone does it and he was just unlucky enough to get caught. Most of his friends have also been caught DUI and the police just followed them home and didn’t cite them because it isn’t worth the paperwork. It isn’t worth the paperwork because the judge doesn’t hand out any sort of punishment. My wife’s uncle is on his 7th or 8th DUI and he is still driving. He isn’t in jail. He doesn’t seem to be facing anything but some fines.

    • An NFL player (and likely one in the other professional leagues as well) has absolutely no excuse for driving drunk. The teams specifically address this issue, they give the players a phone number to call — the team will send someone out to pick them up and take them home.

      It is not only wrong and criminally irresponsible, it is unforgivably stupid. Even more so than for an ordinary citizen.

      That said, it is true that society (and the courts) often tend to minimize the seriousness of DUI. This is changing, but it is still far too prevalent.

  6. There is a secondary question here as well. I watched that game and the camera repeatedly focused on the player in question. Okay, to show him walking the sidelines once is news but to do it repeatedly is pandering. It reminds me of the prude who keeps looking at the sunbather and condemning her.

    By the way, he had no business being in the stadium until he has been cleared. The NFL must realize they are a tremendous influence on young people and they need to watch their image.

      • The networks only have the obligation of operating in the public interest. Thus they must ask themselves whether repeatedly displaying Mr. Brent’s image is in the best interest of the public. Personally I don’t think it is but one could argue that showing him reminds people not to drink and drive. I don’t think that is a very good argument but it could be made.

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