by LZ Granderson
(CNN) — Over the past few days we’ve heard a lot of criticism directed at the National Football League after the arrest of a Dallas Cowboy player on an intoxication manslaughter charge. And justifiably so: A 25-year-old father-to-be who was riding in the player’s car is dead.
But we can’t fall into the trap of making this conversation all about the NFL or even professional athletes. Doing that is a cop-out.
Legendary country singer Randy Travis was arrested this year on a driving while intoxicated charge.
South Carolina state Rep. Ted Vick was arrested this year on a charge of drunken driving.
Florida’s Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Joshua Postorino, a Georgia Tech assistant basketball coach, was “swerving all over the road” before being arrested last week on a driving under the influence charge.
We can try to make this conversation about NFL players — but of the nearly 2,000 men who suit up per season, 14 DUI arrests are made, according to USA Today. That equates to a .7% percent rate. The rate for men in the general population ages 20 to 29, the age bracket of most NFL players, is twice that. Meanwhile, men 21 to 34 are responsible for 42% of all DUI deaths.
This issue isn’t about football players. The MetLife Stadium doesn’t stop serving alcohol at the beginning of the third quarter because officials are afraid the players are going to try to drive home drunk.
If we want to use this tragedy in Dallas to talk about DUIs, then perhaps we need to be more focused on the men who watch the games, not play them. The stats suggest the average guy probably doesn’t need to go the full six degrees of separation before finding a connection with another guy who got behind the wheel of a car when he shouldn’t have.
When I look back at my 20s, I know I’ve been lucky more than once, and I thank God that his grace covered me when my pride put me — and others — in harm’s way.
Too proud to say I’ve had too much to drink because men are supposed to be able to handle our liquor.
Too proud to say I need a ride home, because that would be asking for help — and men don’t like to do that.
Too proud to admit I might’ve been out of control, even though being out of control is the main side effect of excessive drinking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says men are much more likely than women to drink excessively and drive at high speeds. Men average about 12.5 binge drinking episodes a year; Women average 2.7.
And yet we want to make this entire conversation about sports, when this is no more a sports story than a rerun of “Sex and the City.”
Last year Alan Hale, a state representative and bar owner from Montana, got on the House floor and advocated for a repeal of all DUI laws because they hurt small businesses and “they’re destroying a way of life.” FYI: There is no professional sports team in Montana.
Our culture promotes a casual attitude about intoxication — from “The Hangover” to Jamie Foxx’s Grammy-winning “Blame It” — and then gets all pious when something bad happens because of alcohol.
If we want to have a grownup conversation about DUIs, that’s where it should start: Otherwise we’re just sucking up oxygen.
Does this mean the NFL should ignore drunken driving arrests of its players? Of course not.
But the CDC says adults got behind the wheel drunk an estimated 112 million times in 2010 — nearly 300,000 times a day — and that 81% of all drunken drivers are men. So whatever thoughts we may be harboring about athletes who drink and drive, it would be wise to extend those feelings far beyond the realm of sports.
Nearly 11,000 people are killed each year because of alcohol-impaired driving. But since 1998, there have only been three NFL players who have been suspected of having killed someone because of driving drunk.
You can do the rest of the math from there.
Editor’s note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs