Dr. Boyce: Deaths of NFL Players This Week Speak Volumes about Self-Destructive Culture

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent has been charged with intoxication manslaughter after he was involved in an accident this weekend that killed his teammate, Jerry Brown.  This is the second tragedy that has hit the NFL in recent days.  Most of us know about the death of Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs, who killed his girlfriend and himself, also on a weekend rampage.

During our a panel on black male fatherhood in New York City this week, I spoke with several NBA players, an NFL player and NBA Player’s Association Executive Director Billy Hunter about the culture of black male athletes.   One of the things that has consistently concerned me is the culture of self-destructive behavior which seems to walk hand-in-hand with being a black male athlete.  Popping bottles at the club, “getting it in” with random women and putting yourself into one horrible situation after another has become almost a requirement for young men trying to fit into this culture.

Let me be one of the first to publicly say, “This sh*t is stupid.”  There’s no point in being polite about this conversation, since people are dying because we refuse to speak up.

The common factors in both the Belcher murder-suicide and the death of Jerry Brown are that a) they both occurred on the weekend, b) they both involved excessive amounts of alcohol and c) they were probably leaving “da club” or some other social gathering when their lives came to an end.  As a result, one black man is in prison, two black men are dead, one black woman is also dead and at least two black babies are going to grow up without their fathers.

We owe it to our young men to speak candidly about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and teach them the value of critical thinking when it comes to avoiding the many creative ways to destroy your life and the lives of those you care about.  Right before his death, Jerry Brown was openly questioning the value of “the fast life” on his Facebook page, wondering if this life is conducive to his being a good father and husband one day.

I would have loved to sit down with this brother to say, “No man, it’s not.   Your daughter, girlfriend, and mother all need you to be the best man you can be.  I don’t care what you’re hearing on the radio every morning, but nothing good has ever been accomplished by an entire segment of the population that spends all of its time getting high and drunk every other day.  Brother, you are better than that.”

One of the reasons I respect former New York Giant David Tyree is that he speaks openly about how alcoholism put him in a jail cell just a few years ago.  During our panel in Harlem, Tyree shared his experience as a cautionary tale for young men who don’t understand the value of thinking outside the slave box. We may no longer be physically enslaved, but many of us are psychologically enslaved by media that presents imagery of black men as animal-like creatures with no productive direction.  Another panelist, former Washington Wizards player Etan Thomas, said it best when he said that, “They do these things because they are afraid of us and what might happen if we were to realize our truest potential.”

Now, because no one, to my knowledge, had a candid, honest conversation with Jerry Brown about the dangers of “the fast life,” he died before having the chance to figure out that this life just isn’t worth it.  There are more productive and fulfilling things to do on a Friday night than to sit around popping bottles at the club.  We must share this message with our young men EVERY CHANCE WE GET.

Additionally, we must rethink the culture surrounding many young black men who define themselves as nothing but dumb jocks.  We must empower them to use their platforms, wealth and opportunity to do great things and not to transform themselves into victims of an oppressive partnership.   Black male athletes are among the strongest, fastest, most intelligent and most courageous warriors in the entire black community.  They must not be allowed to be transformed into sad little sheep.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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  1. I will agree with you with talented, strong, and fast Boyce, but most intelligent is.
    another big question. Just because a lot of black males are rewarded the opportunity.
    to play for the NBA or NFL do not mean that they become a role model in the category of, INTELLIGENCE! Before any of these guys are accepted tp play big time.
    with the NBA or NFL, I am one hundred percent certain that they have to prove.
    themselves in the realm of academics. The word, "Intelligent," and "Academics".
    have two different meanings. You know as well as I do that all these black males,
    especially, who play in the NBA or NFL are not intelligent. If they become role models.
    in the eyes of some of their followers, it is always due to theiir playing skill or their.
    tough macho like character which the mainstream white media, to me, is paid to ill-
    lustrate to the world. Some of these dudes do not really want to be role models.
    anyway as a lot them have admitted. Basketball, footballl, and baseball are simply.
    high paying professions that has the tendency to drawing large crowds of folk.
    Talking about intelligence? Former basketball player, Magic Johnson has always.
    appeared as a intelligent black male on the field and off. This man is definitelty.
    giving back to the community through his business empire. The simple fact is this:
    every smart person is not necessarily and intelligent individual, in my opinion.

  2. Excellent commentary. Thank you.

  3. Raaq IsEvolving Cason

    I do, however, agree with the suggestion that we rethink the culture surrounding many young black men who define themselves as nothing but dumb jocks. Although this article is centered around athletes I would submit to you that the "rethinking" should be extended to politicians and entertainers. The culture around these main three are riddle with values, belief systems and philosophies that allow people in these fields to take the fans and the publics trust for granted while, at the same time, earn enormous amounts of money and, in many situaitons, successfully and metaphorically, spit in our faces as a result of their sad and dysfunctional words and actions.

  4. Raaq IsEvolving Cason

    I agree with talented, strong and fast. But most intellingent? Unfortunately Dr. I have to respectfully agree to disagree.

  5. Actually, the percentage of offenses involving NFL athletes is significantly lower compared to the general population. For NFL players between the ages of 25 to 34 account for 2 percent of offenses compared to 10 percent for the average male in that same demographic.

  6. Thank u for finally speaking out on this subject…..This young man had just said how living that life wasn’t as much fun as it used to be, now he’s dead just when he was beginning to come into the man he wanted to be…As afemale I’ve witnessed the down fall of many a man from the street life, leaving us women to caryy a burden our backs were not meant to bear…..its sad !!!

  7. The time has come for us all to REGULATE! Read all about @ http://www.regulatethemanual.com. you are in here! REGULATE!