Driving while drunk should be one-way road out of town

October 03, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

It's the Ravens' version of a perp walk. Player sidles off practice field. Says all the right things to the television cameras. Disappears into the locker room thinking he's still the man.

"Be Responsible." The words appear on three large signs inside the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex. Either Ralph Staten and Cornell Brown can't read, or they don't understand plain English.

Two wins, two losses, two DUIs.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Baltimore Ravens.

Owner Art Modell was out of town yesterday, as was vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome. Executive VP David Modell laid into Brown, but frankly, the entire organization needs a talking to.

The Modells, Newsome, the players, the coaches -- force them to listen to someone like Susan Edkins, who needed to gather herself yesterday when asked for her reaction to the Ravens' alleged indiscretions.

Five years ago this month, Edkins was driving her daughter, Annie, and two other children home from a McDonald's when her minivan was broadsided by a drunk driver in a Ford pickup outside Annapolis.

Annie, 12, died the next day -- she would have been 17 on Oct. 11. And when Edkins hears about NFL players getting charged with drunken driving, it's difficult for her to contain her outrage.

"They're in the public eye. Kids look up to them," said Edkins, formerly a public policy liaison to Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Maryland.

"They're their heroes, right, wrong or indifferent. They look at it like, 'If it's OK for them to get away with it, then it should be OK for the rest of us, too.' "

Staten and Brown might not get away with it -- Staten was charged with drunken driving in Baltimore County on Sept. 11, and Brown was charged Thursday with drunken driving and driving with a suspended license in Blacksburg, Va.

The Ravens suspended Staten for one game, and likely will do the same with Brown. But except for the occasional Bam Morris -- another fine Ravens acquisition -- how many professional athletes ever go to jail?

They live in another world, and few understand the temptations better than Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster, who was suspended for the 1996 season for violating the NFL drug policy.

"You've got the mystique of the NFL -- you don't think you're invincible, but that some things can't happen to you because you are an NFL player," Webster said.

"You get used to doing things, being the man in high school, being the man in college, then you're here. But you're human just like anybody else."

Human, capable of hurting others.

Human, capable of learning, right?

Brown apologized before the media yesterday, but you wonder how much of it was heartfelt, and how much of it was rehearsed. Staten's arrest had occurred just three weeks earlier. But its lessons evidently were lost on Brown.

Hadn't management warned the players to be careful?

"Management always tells you to be careful. They told all of us to be extra-careful," Brown said. "We must be responsible for decisions. We're accountable for everything we do on our own, which is the situation here.

"It's something I must deal with. It's not management or the Baltimore Ravens, even though I put them in the situation where their name comes up. It's more in my hands."

True, but the team isn't above reproach, either. Brown was a sixth-round draft pick in 1997, Staten a seventh-rounder. Both should have gone higher. But both encountered their share of trouble in college.

Brown was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery involving a 1996 brawl on the Virginia Tech campus in which a track athlete was injured. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, with all but two suspended.

Staten's problems aren't as well-documented, but he was suspended for spring practice in 1996 by then-Alabama coach Gene Stallings for undisclosed reasons.

"You've got 58 different individuals here," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "They're young yet. They're not maybe as mature as they like to think they are. If you take 58 people in any organization, you're going to have problems."

Still, we're not talking about financial problems, marital problems or even mere substance-abuse problems. Driving while intoxicated is one of the most irresponsible acts imaginable.

Many of the Ravens are outstanding citizens. Not all of them can be Peter Boulware. But why should the team even pursue players who might be dangerous to the community?

"We are extremely thoughtful about the whole character issue," David Modell insisted. "That behavior and these mistakes are unacceptable to this organization, just plain unacceptable."

Tough talk, and Modell said he was even tougher on Brown, telling him that his actions were "disrespectful of every hard-working person in this organization, every single of them."

So, why not just cut Brown and Staten?

The Ravens worked hard to root out the malcontents from their Cleveland days. Now they should start rooting out their bad apples, no matter how talented.

"All of us have children. If my children come home when they're 18, 19 or 20 and tell us they've got a DUI, am I cutting them? No, I'm not," Modell said.

"I'll attempt to make points about the seriousness and unacceptability of their behavior, help the person to manage his decision-making better so he can make a positive contribution to the collective, whether it's a family or a team.

"If their behavior continues to be egregious, perhaps you do have to make tougher decisions. But the punishment needs to fit the crime. I'm not sure cutting the player because of a reckless mistake is appropriate punishment. Based on the facts, I think that would be pretty rough."

No, DUI is pretty rough.

Ask Susan Edkins.

Ask any mother or father who had a child killed by a drunk driver.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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