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.