Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon's recent DUI arrest brought an issue back to the forefront that is very much on the minds of NFL clubs -- what are the best ways to curtail the combination of alcohol and impaired driving? According to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports, one of the best "diversions" in recent years has gone by the wayside, and nobody seems to understand why.
The "Safe Rides" program, started a number of years ago by a former police officer, allowed NFL players to phone in to a call center anonymously if they were out on the town and found themselves too impaired to get behind the wheel. As Freeman describes, it worked like this:
[The player] could arrange a car service to pick him (and friends) up and use that car service for the night. Or, incredibly, if the player wanted to use his own car, and got very drunk, the player could call the service, and an off-duty police officer would drive the player and his car home for him.
Not a bad deal, especially for those of us who wonder, whenever guys like Blackmon get popped for driving way over the legal limit, why they won't set themselves up for safety when they have more than enough money to do so. Moreover, the service was free!
Here's the problem, though -- because certain players believed that their calls would get back to their teams and be used against them, the NFLPA took the service over a few years ago, as Freeman reports, around 2009. The NFLPA switched to a lesser-known company and didn't publicize the service among the players. So, players didn't avail themselves of the service, and it eventually fell by the wayside. At this time, there is no known service for players who find themselves in such a position, unless they want to flag a cab or set up a designated driver program among friends before the party begins.
Of course, the responsibility lies with the player in question to keep himself on the straight and narrow (or have someone else driving if he can't), and there's no indication that Blackmon would have used the service had he known about it. When it comes to DUI, this wasn't his first rodeo.
But having those kinds of services available seems to make sense in a league that expresses more and more concern about off-field behavior. And if the league is going to be less and less patient about things like this, there needs to be more going on than just simple aversion therapy. Players who think they're 10 feet tall and bulletproof may not get the point at all, but the available option of a safe, league-endorsed, "safe home" program that truly protects the anonymity of the players (so they'll actually use it) seems like a good idea.
Enough of a good idea, in fact, to be a rare point of agreement between the NFL and NFLPA. As much as Blackmon's arrest will be used as a cautionary tale for rookies and veterans alike (as it should), it should also be used as an example for those who would like to "protect the shield" on both sides that players need to feel safe in calling out if they need help.