MINNEAPOLIS — Jerome Felton had the same reaction most of us had when news came out of Dallas last week of the drunk-driving-related death involving Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent.
Shock, sadness, sympathy.
But, for Felton, there was more.
“It makes you step back and think,” the Vikings fullback said. “Whether it be me or my friends that have been in that situation before, in the blink of an eye, no matter who you are, that can be you.”
Brent's early morning car wreck took the life of his passenger, teammate Jerry Brown. Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter.
In early June, Felton was arrested in Eden Prairie on suspicion of driving while impaired. Felton couldn't speak Friday to the specifics of the case, which has yet to be resolved. But, sitting by his locker at Winter Park, Felton talked like a man who had learned a very valuable lesson.
“It's not worth it,” he said of drinking and driving. “At the end of the day, what is a $100 taxi bill? (Brent) never meant to hurt his best friend. He made a poor decision and there was a tragic outcome. You feel sorry for both of them. Obviously, because one man lost his life and you feel bad for his family. But, in many ways, Josh lost part of his life, too.”
The issue of drinking and driving is one that has plagued society, not just NFL locker rooms, despite exhaustive measures taken by the NFL as a whole and by individual teams in particular to curb the practice.
Still, in the wake of the horrific events of the past two weekends involving NFL players - two weeks ago, Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his daughter, then committed suicide in front of team officials in Kansas City - Vikings coach Leslie Frazier felt it necessary to speak to his team again.
“My heart goes out to the staffs and families in Kansas City and now in Dallas as well,” Frazier said. “Yes, personally, I do talk to our players about their behavior in the building, out of the building, what your standards are. We have a code of conduct here that we take players through. In light of what has more recently happened I have talked to our guys and will talk to them again this week.”
A lot of work goes into trying to educate players on the issue. New players hear it at the mandatory Rookie Symposium. The Vikings bring in speakers to talk about the subject. The team has a program in which players can call members of Vikings security to get rides home whenever needed - it is a service available to every Vikings employee.
Jared Allen, the team's NFL Players Association representative, brought brochures to the locker room Friday touting the NFLPA's Player Transportation Link program, a confidential transportation service available for players. It includes both pre-arranged and emergency response services.
“The league does plenty,” said Vikings punter Chris Kluwe who tweeted on the subject after Brent's accident. “They have resources available for us, the teams have resources available for us. What it comes down to is whether players are going to do the right thing or not. There are presentations every year. It's, ‘Here's our security guy. Here's our number. Call us. Don't be afraid to call us.'. It is completely confidential; our security guys aren't going to tell the coaches, because they realize if word gets out, nobody will use it.”
Still, the problem persists; Felton's was the third such arrest in 10 months for the Vikings, preceded by quarterback Rhett Bomar and safety Tyrell Johnson.
Fewer NFL players, though, are arrested than other men aged 22 to 34, according to Georgetown economics professor Stephen Bronars, and the number of NFL players being arrested has dropped 40 percent in the last six years.
Ultimately, it comes down to making the right choices.
“I guess there is that air of invincibility, being a young guy,” Felton said. “And not just being a football player, but being a young guy in general. You take things for granted. You think it can't happen to you.”
Unfortunately it does. Recent events have shown that.
“It makes you think how you want to approach things going forward,” Felton said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services