Does the NFL have a drinking problem?

7:53 AM, Dec 10, 2012   |    comments
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Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY Sports

 IRVING, Texas - Since January 2000, NFL players have been arrested at least 624 times on various charges, including 42 times this year, according to data compiled by USA TODAY Sports.

Of those 624 arrests, 177 (28%) were arrested because they were suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Despite the league's various attempts to stop the problem, it remains the single-biggest criminal issue in the NFL.

Nothing else comes close. Nothing else has been more deadly.

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Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown became the latest victim early Saturday when police say teammate Josh Brent drove drunk, hit a curb and flipped his car, killing Brown, who was riding with him.

"We've all done it (driven intoxicated)," San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes said Sunday. "But it's to a point now where maybe you were ignorant and didn't know any better or felt you were invincible. We've had enough of death to show us this is what you do not do."

In some kind of cosmic alignment, the accident Saturday happened on the same road - about 1½ miles away - from the national headquarters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an NFL partner in the fight against DUIs.

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"I've been in those circumstances where I drove where I was under the influence," Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "We have to get a hold of the alcohol. Guys won't want to hear that. But that's the problem. Too much alcohol, getting drunk, you're out of control"

Brown's death marked the third time since 1998 that an NFL player killed another person because of suspected DUI. Brent's arrest also marked the 18th time this year that an NFL player has been arrested on suspicion of DUI - up from seven in 2011 and not far behind the worst NFL DUI years in recent history: 20 in 2006 and 19 in 2009. On average, NFL players are arrested for DUI about 13-14 times a year.

The NFL has noted various efforts to stem the problem, including discipline, education and even chauffeur services available to players through the players union. All they have to do is call for a ride.

"The program is there and I don't know why every player in the league wouldn't use it," Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Shaun Smith said. "I've used it before when I've been out, and I'm sure I'll use it again. Personally, I'm not going to put myself or anyone else at risk by driving drunk. You just wish everyone felt that way."

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The numbers persist in part because it's a league full of rambunctious, wealthy young men who love to party almost as much as they love to drive fancy cars. NFL players fall into the most at-risk demographic for drinking and driving, with males ages 21-34 responsible for 42% of all fatal DUI crashes.

And yet the NFL is better behaved compared to the general population. Out of about 2,000 NFL players per season, including team practice squads, 14 DUI arrests make for a rate of 0.7%.

By contrast, males ages 20-24 and 25-29 each have a DUI rate of double that, at 1.6% and 1.4%, respectively, according to FBI statistics for last year.

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