Ruggs? Brent, Stallworth… NFL Has 21 Year Long, Raging DUI Problem. Past Cases Highlight Possible Legal & NFL Outcome For Raiders Star.
On the heels of Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III’s horrific crash which left a car in flames and one person dead, it’s noteworthy to examine the ongoing DUI problem in the NFL which has led to some historically tragic outcomes.
The NFL has been battling a raging DUI problem since at least early 2000, when USA Today Sports began tracking DUI related arrests.
In recent years, states have tightened their DUI laws and the NFL has also enhanced penalties in an effort to deter DUI related offenses but it doesn’t seem to be making a dent when it comes to football players.
The NFL crackdown began in 2014. Just two years earlier, former Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent was infamously charged with manslaughter after a car he was driving crashed, killing his Cowboys teammate Jerry Brown Jr.
Brent was driving drunk when the car slammed into a curb and flipped over. Brent was indicted for intoxication manslaughter and later sentenced to 180 days and ten years probation. He was suspended for ten games and retired shortly after.
Just a few years earlier, in 2009, former Saints player Donte Stallworth struck and killed a pedestrian in Miami while driving his black Bentley one morning after reportedly drinking the night before. He killed 59-year-old Mario Reyes, who was trying to catch a bus home after a work shift.
Stallworth was charged with DUI manslaughter and under a plea deal, received 30 days in the county jail, plus 1,000 hours of community service and eight years of probation. Roger Goodell suspended Stallworth for the entire 2009 season without pay.
Also of note: in 1998, St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little killed a motorist while driving drunk and in 2003, Cowboys cornerback Dwayne Goodrich struck three men with his BMW killing two. Goodrich pleaded guilty to negligent criminal homicide but was not found guilty of DUI.
In 2014, following Josh Brent’s conviction and the horrific murder-suicide at the Chiefs facility by Jovan Belcher who was also intoxicated, the NFL reformed its DUI policy, imposing an automatic one-game suspension in lieu of just a fine.
Just last year in 2020, the NFL tightened the drug policy yet again, now requiring a minimum three-game suspension for DUI offenses that do not include aggravating factors such as injury or death to another person.
“If the Commissioner finds that there were aggravating circumstances,
including but not limited to felonious conduct, extreme intoxication (BAC of .15% or more),
property damage or serious injury or death to the Player or a third party, and/or if the Player has had prior drug or alcohol-related misconduct, increased discipline may be imposed,” the policy reads.
Some of these cases provide comparisons to see what result could occur for Ruggs. Although, the time periods and states in which the crimes happened always influences the outcome, it is certainly the norm for high-profile athletes to receive shorter prison sentences even in serious cases where someone has died and intoxication is not disputed.
There is a grave injustice in any case, when a life is lost and the punishment for driving drunk is a mere six months or less in jail. Arguably even years in jail, is not punishment enough for a bad decision that destroys lives and families.
In Ruggs’ situation, if he is charged with anything, he could receive a reduced sentence if his defense is successful. We breakdown his options HERE in our new, first of its kind “Defense” section, designed to provide the athlete’s legal strategy and reinforce the concept of innocent until proven guilty which is so oft forgotten in coverage today.
Keep in mind, Nevada also has stiff DUI laws, so there is a chance that if Ruggs does get charged with DUI resulting in death, and is convicted, he could face a minimum of two years in prison.
On the NFL front, Ruggs will likely be facing more than a three-game suspension if the league finds him at fault. The NFL can come to a different finding than a court and find Ruggs responsible even if he’s never charged. Though, as of late, the League usually waits for a law enforcement investigation and any subsequent trial to play out before issuing its own findings or discipline. If Ruggs is charged, he would likely go on the Commissioner’s Exempt List due to the serious nature of the incident.
Alcohol or other substance abuse is officially considered conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL and professional football and in most circumstances it is grounds to void a contract and release a player from a team or the league.
Taking a step back, the more pressing issue is the NFL’s ineffectiveness in deterring DUI arrest incidents amongst its players, despite the stiffening of DUI related punishment in its drug policy.
Back in 2012, around the time that Josh Brent’s driving led to his teammates death, USA Today, which compiles and tracks NFL players’ arrests, listed DUI related arrests as the single biggest criminal issue in the NFL. “Nothing else comes close. Nothing else has been more deadly,” the article stated.
Brown’s death was the third time since the late 90s that an NFL player killed another person because of alleged DUI. In 2012, Brent was the 18th player arrested on suspicion of DUI — “up from seven in 2011 and not far behind the worst NFL DUI years in recent history: 20 in 2006 and 19 in 2009.” USA Today reported that on average, “NFL players are arrested for DUI about 13-14 times a year.”
If DUI related arrests were the single biggest criminal issue in the NFL in 2012, not much has changed numbers wise. According to our recent tabulation of the USA Today database, NFL players have been arrested approximately 355 times since December 2012, when Brent was arrested. More than 75 players have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, accounting for about 22% of total arrests over the past nine years.
Compare that to the numbers from 2000-2012 where 624 players were arrested and 177 of them, or 28% were arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence.
If one considers that the first data set from 2000-2012 covers twelve years and the latter one from 2012-2021, nine years, it’s safe to assume that the stats have not improved and may even be worse, surpassing 28%, if DUIs continue to rise over the next three years.
The relatively comparable statistics of DUI arrests over the last 21 years is disappointing considering the enhanced suspensions by the NFL and the efforts by the League and the players union to partner with car services like Lyft over the years, and offer easily accessible chauffeur services to players in lieu of driving drunk.
Driving drunk is a decision that affects, risks and sadly takes the lives of others and a “four game suspension” or “180 days” in jail just isn’t cutting it. The failure of the league and the criminal justice system to provide proper justice to the victims and their families is perhaps the reason why the numbers remain the same and these tragedies keep recurring.
For more on how Ruggs may fight any potential charges, read below!