No winners after Cowboys’ Brent given probation

Posted Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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So former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent got 180 days in jail, 10 years’ probation and a $10,000 fine for driving drunk and being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in the death of teammate and best friend Jerry Brown.

On first glance, it doesn’t seem like a lot for the price of one man’s life.

But despite the hugs of joy among Brent’s family members after hearing the sentence, there were no winners in the Dallas County courtroom on Friday — just survivors and people left to pick up the pieces as the result of another senseless tragedy.

The person that comes to mind first is Jerry Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, though she wasn’t in the courtroom.

She was in San Antonio to attend the birthday party of her granddaughter, who no longer has a father because of Brent’s actions.

Jackson has been by Brent’s side from the outset, showing a compassion for forgiveness like none other.

Brent’s supposed light sentence can be partially attributed to her support. If she wanted Brent in prison, jurors likely would have obliged.

But Jackson testified Thursday that she has forgiven Brent and that her son would not have wanted him in jail.

“He’s still responsible,” Jackson said of Brent. “But you can’t go on in life holding a grudge. We all make mistakes.”

When the jury gave Brent probation Friday, the initial reaction by the masses was one of outrage.

Brent could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison after being convicted Wednesday of intoxication manslaughter for the December 2012 crash that killed Brown.

Brent’s blood alcohol content was 0.18 percent, more than twice the state’s legal limit to drive of 0.08 percent. It was estimated that he had as many as 17 drinks on the night of the crash. Yet, he still got behind wheel of his Mercedes and ended up wrecking the car and killing his best friend.

That it was his second drunken-driving offense — he was arrested in Illinois in 2009 and served 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge — made his actions and the light sentence seemingly even more deplorable.

Judge Robert Burns was particularly miffed at the sentence and was the one who imposed the mandatory 180-day jail stay, while making a point to admonish Brent for “bringing shame to the city of Dallas.”

“Sadly, Mr. Brent, you’re not the first Dallas Cowboy to kill someone with a motor vehicle,” Burns said. “But, I sure hope you’re the last.”

It must be pointed out that Brent’s sentence was not the result of an “affluenza” defense or being a Dallas Cowboy. He is the 35th person currently in Dallas County who have received probation after being charged with intoxication manslaughter.

He got what he got.

After spending six months in jail, he will be on probation for 10 years. That won’t be a picnic. And one slip-up could land him in prison for 10 years.

He will also have to live forever with the stigma of being the Dallas Cowboys who killed his best friend and teammate.

The question now: How does Brent handle himself going forward? How will Brent reward Jackson for her support and honor Brown’s memory as well as try to fill the hole in the life of Brown’s daughter?

Though Brent retired from the NFL last year while awaiting trial, returning to the game, and possibly the Cowboys, is an option. He will possibly be subject to further punishment by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

As for now, Brent is taking it one day at a time. His agent Peter Schaefer said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Brown family.”

All of that could change in six months when Brent gets out of jail and is looking for work. At age 25, he is still young enough to play football. He certainly wouldn’t be the first to resume a career after driving drunk and killing someone … Donte Stallworth and Leonard Little are examples.

Here’s hoping Brent learns from the first active Dallas Cowboys player to kill someone with a motor vehicle, Dwayne Goodrich, the man Burns was referring to in sentencing.

Goodrich, a former Cowboys cornerback, spent six years in prison for criminally negligent homicide after striking three men, killing two, and fleeing the scene of the accident on a Dallas highway on Jan. 14, 2003.

“Sometimes, as people, we look at the situation as too harsh or too lenient,” Goodrich said. “It’s something he has to live with for the rest of his life. It’s hard to put into words. But the anniversary of mine is always a tough week for me. It’s something that will stay with me no matter what.”

Goodrich knows he will never be forgiven for the events of that night and he holds himself responsible. But he has tried to move forward by using his situation as a life lesson for others by speaking to churches, schools and other athletes about the dangers of drinking and driving.

He hopes Brent can do the same.

“I would never want to see someone go to prison,” Goodrich said by phone from the University of Tennessee, where he has returned to school and will get his degree in May. “As long as he turns the tragedy around and try to make something positive out of it. If he gets a chance to get back in the league, get out there and be a spokesperson and help some of these athletes. Let them know if it can happen to you, it can happen to anybody.”

Brent couldn’t be a lesson to himself after the first offense. Maybe he can be a lesson for someone else and save a life this time.

That’s all we can hope for now.

Brown’s family deserves at least that much.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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