JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Justin Blackmon was asked a simple, direct question on Monday: "Do you have a drinking problem or substance-abuse problem?"
The question is fair. The 23-year-old Jaguars wide receiver was arrested for a DUI in college in 2010, and then for another DUI in 2012. Then, last month, he was given a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
If a substance-abuse problem is defined as the point where drinking or drugs affects personal life or career, Blackmon is passing that threshold. His career is now in jeopardy. So is his future. This suspension cost him $289,000 in game checks and will likely void the guarantee on $11 million in contract money. The next off-field mistake could cost him his job.
Asked if he felt like this suspension is a "crossroad moment," Blackmon said, "I do."
Yet he does not think he has a substance-abuse problem.
"No, I would say I don't," the second-year receiver said Monday. "Out of this whole thing, one of the main things I would say that I had a problem with was just making a poor decision."
Except that he's made a rash of poor decisions, going back nearly three years now. Two involved alcohol and a third involved an unknown substance he wasn't supposed to be taking. That's a trend.
There's certainly a case to be made on Blackmon's behalf. He's dealing with sudden fame and fortune. He's a big-time wide receiver with the expectation of being a star on a team with an unproven quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) and a franchise running back (Maurice Jones-Drew) who is coming back from injury. It's a lot to handle, even in a tiny market.
"He's fine," Jones-Drew said. "He's a young kid who's made some mistakes. He's 22, 23 years old. With him, it's magnified because of who he is."
Fair enough. But there are many other young professional athletes who are not making the same mistakes, and not making them after they're well aware they can't afford to make them anymore. Last summer, when he was pulled over in Oklahoma at 3 a.m., Blackmon blew a 0.24 – three times the legal limit in that state. That's a lot of alcohol, and that should have been enough of a wake-up call for someone with so much on the line. Forget about losing your job for a DUI; you can lose your life, or destroy the lives of others from it. Asked at the time if he was going to stop drinking, he said, "Right now, I'm done with all that."
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And somehow here we are, less than a year later, and Blackmon is explaining his mistakes again.
On Monday, Blackmon seemed neither overly remorseful nor overly cavalier. He yawned twice during the media scrum, though he did say he takes "full responsibility" for what he did. He refused comment on whether he needed rehab, yet he said he's "very confident" there would be no further mistakes.
Blackmon isn't the typical wide receiver. He's not flashy or loud. He's not a big talker. It's not fair to say he doesn't take this situation seriously just because he wasn't emotive during his first meeting with the media about his suspension.
"I've made decisions and choices to make better decisions," he said, "and if that's staying at home, then it's just staying at home."
Will he stay at home? He said no when asked if he needed a lifestyle change.
Blackmon says he plans on leaning on his support group, which includes head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell. Those are his bosses, though, and new ones at that. Jones-Drew says his "door is open." The NFL department of player engagement is designed to help with life issues, but Blackmon says he hasn't heard from anyone there, and an email to director Troy Vincent was not immediately returned.
Blackmon appears "fine," and he's saying a lot of the right things, but words don't matter much at this point. And it's still unclear whether he fully grasps the fact that one misstep could mean the end of his NFL career.
Right now, a lot of people care whether Justin Blackmon makes the right decisions. But if he makes another wrong decision, people will start to care less and less about him. Then who will be his support group? What kind of support group does former Lions receiver Titus Young have now, after three arrests in the span of a week?
Blackmon is not there yet, thankfully. Let's hope he never will be. But someone so close to the start of his career should not be so close to the end of his career.
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