NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith has made it easier for NFL players to act responsibly. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
On Dec. 8, 2012, Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent was driving a car that was involved in an accident that led to the death of his friend and teammate, linebacker Jerry Brown. Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter and could face up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted (he has pleaded not guilty). Six weeks after Brent's accident, Dallas defensive lineman Jay Ratliff was charged with a DUI after he crashed into an 18-wheeler on Highway 114 in Texas -- the same road Brent was on when Brown was killed -- and refused to take a breathalyzer test. (Ratliff's attorney says that he has no plans to agree to a plea bargain in the case, which will go to trial next February)
This is not to pick on the Cowboys. There are numerous instances in which people in the league have mixed driving and alcohol in ways they most certainly shouldn't -- take the DUI arrests this summer of two Broncos executives, for example.
On Wednesday the NFL Players Association took a proactive step to deal with the problem, announcing that it had entered into a partnership with Uber, a company that will provide safe rides for players in 17 cities in which there is at least one NFL team. (Uber's technonlogy is not available in the 14 other cities that have NFL teams.) Players will be able to download a smartphone app, and when they use it a car will be sent to their location within minutes.
According to the statement released by the NFLPA, every active NFL player will receive keychain cards containing ride credits, and new rider gift cards to share with the people closest to them.
In a Wednesday morning conference call, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith referenced Brent's accident, and spoke about the ways in which all involved must step up.
“The goal for us is to change behavior,” he said. “You have increased enforcement, increased penalties. Obviously last year, we had a tragic accident in Texas where an individual lost a friend. When you look at this, there are dramatic penalties above what the Commissioner can impose in the National Football League. People can be thrown in jail. Anytime you look at changing behavior on a large scale, the only way is to use a myriad of vehicles to change that behavior.
"The partnership with Uber provides players with that quick access to great transportation, but the goal was to look at all the ways we can act to change behavior.”
Smith said that the union's arrangement with Uber was non an easy fix, and warned about avoiding the temptation to throw all players in one sociological box.
"The goal with Uber was to not only provide quick access to great transportation, but also to really look at all of the ways we can act to change behavior. How do we change behavior by accessing something we believe all of our players have ready access to? The Uber system uses the GPS technology built into the phone, so you don't have to take the additional step of actually calling someone and having a conversation. The ease of the technology improves the readiness to utilize the service."
Smith said that the NFLPA did a study on the locations of DUI arrests, and said that the overwhelming majority occurred in metropolitan areas, between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and either late on Friday and Saturday nights, or early Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The NFL and NFLPA have been discussing harsher penalties for alcohol-related driving offenses, which are currently covered under the league's substance-abuse policy.