Our view: NFL tragedies force discussion of gun laws, DUIs

December 12, 2012 10:43:29 AM



It has been a tragic couple of weeks for the National Football League. 


On Dec. 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend at her apartment, then drove to the Chiefs' football stadium and, as he was talking with head coach Romeo Crennel, shot and killed himself as the police were arriving on the scene. General manager Scott Pioli and defensive assistant Gary Gibbs also witnessed the suicide.  


One week later, Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent was arrested on intoxication manslaughter charges after the death of his best friend and teammate, Jerry Brown Jr., who was killed when Brent lost control of his vehicle in the early morning hours after a night of drinking.  


Murder-suicides are not uncommon in the U.S. Certainly, DUI fatalities are not infrequent. 


What has catapulted these incidents into the public eye is not the nature of the crimes but the identities of those who committed them. That is always the case with celebrities. For better -- and often for worse -- the lives of celebrities invite scrutiny. 


These cases involving NFL players have opened the debate about gun laws, DUIs and the character flaws of the rich, famous and privileged. 


It is never a bad thing to have an honest discussion of issues that impact our society, and even the most passionate of gun enthusiasts should not shrink from a frank discussion of what, if anything, can be done about gun violence in the U.S. Few countries suffer more from gun violence than the U.S. Too often, gun enthusiasts insist gun-control laws are not the answer, yet offer no substantive argument for what that answer could be.  


The scourge of drinking and driving is also a subject that warrants scrutiny. Are stiffer penalties the answer? If so, how does one explain the fact that DUI deaths seem not to have been impacted by tougher laws?  


All of these are legitimate questions to ponder. 


What is of little value is to look at these two cases involving celebrity athletes and suggest that the reason for these tragedies can be attributed to some great character flaw that is somehow exclusively applicable to the rich and famous.  


When the public turns on a celebrity, it can be vicious. They are generally branded as being pampered, selfish and afflicted with the idea that "the rules don't apply to me." Presenting those arguments does little to explain these kinds of tragedies though. 


The reality is that celebrities are subject to the same flaws, errors in judgment and demons that afflict the rest of us. Tolstoy once wrote that we too often mistake beauty for goodness. That is certainly the peril with those we place on pedestals. Celebrities are loved and emulated for their unique skills and talents. But ultimately, they are no less human than the rest of us, and therefore, no less subject to human failings. 


It serves our society when we debate things like gun violence and DUI deaths. 


Let's keep the debate there, where it belongs.