Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I love NFL football, but...

I love NFL football and am a diehard San Diego Chargers fan. I have suffered through the lean years with our team, and rejoiced in good years. Leading our division with a 2-0 record and a 67-7 point differential, this should be nothing short of a gleeful year, but it is flawed for me by the actions of some of the players.

To fill in for those readers who may not be from San Diego, one Charger who is not on the field is a former starting linebacker named Steve Foley. Foley was shot by an off-duty policeman in a drunk driving incident on Sept 3rd and is out for the season.

There is no small controversy about the incident. The policeman was off duty, in his own, unmarked car, and not in uniform. Foley did not stop when the policeman attempted to detain him and, it turns out, that is quite proper under California law. One does not have to stop unless the car has a light and siren and the officer is in uniform. The officer, it seems, may have been overzealous; turns out a family member was killed by a drunk driver a few years ago. There are questions about why the Sheriff’s Department did not respond sooner.

Foley has a history. He has a DUI conviction in 1998. He has been through the NFL substance abuse program. He was involved in a public drunk and disorderly incident that involved altercation with law enforcement a few months ago, but charges were recently dropped. His blood alcohol when admitted to the hospital immediately after the shooting was .23, almost three times the California limit.

More background, although everybody already knows this, or certainly should. Drunk driving is a serious problem in this country. In two months it kills more people than the war in Iraq has killed since it began. That is not to belittle the tragedy that is that misbegotten war, but to emphasize the horror that we face here at home. We, society as whole, must unite to stop that horror.

I do not bring “clean hands” to this discussion, as the law would say; I am a recovering alcoholic. I never killed anyone while driving drunk; other than myself I injured two. I was never arrested for DUI, much less convicted for it, but for 21 years I put my fellow citizens at risk by driving while intoxicated more times than I can count. For 24 years I have been making amends for that, in part, by speaking out against the social acceptance of that lethal practice.

It is not enough for society to “not accept” drunk driving, the solution comes when society makes it socially unacceptable to do so. Drunk driving will not become obsolete until it is common practice to say to someone we hold dear, “So long as you insist on doing this, you are not my friend.”

Until this becomes America's mantra, drunk drivers will continue to kill our parents, our husbands and wives, and our children.

To return to the Chargers players, they were understandably concerned for their friend when they heard of the episode. Their reaction was to express anger at the police officer and unreserved support for their friend Foley. They made “tributes” to him on the playing field during the next two games.

But by expressing support for Foley without accommodating of the known fact that he was repeatedly driving drunk, the Chargers players are making themselves part of the problem of drunk driving in San Diego, rather than part of the solution.

The Chargers players are willing to overlook that the citizens of San Diego provide Steve Foley with the sybaritic wealth in which he wallows, and his way of thanking them is to put their lives at risk by climbing behind the wheel of a car while uncontrollably drunk: Not just once, but repeatedly.

“So long as you insist on doing this, you are not my friend.”

I love NFL football, and I love the Chargers. But now when I see LaDainian Tomlinson carry the ball I hope he will not score. I would love to see a Chargers touchdown, but I do not want to see a “tribute” to a drunk driver.

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