Monday, January 13, 2014

A Former Terp Repeats A Heinous Act

As published in The County Times ( in Jan 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Once upon a time, the University of Maryland football team was led by a lovable coach – Ralph Friedgen – and wore recurring, recognizable and, dare I say, iconic uniforms.  That sounds crazy in the era of head coach Randy Edsall, one of those most unlikable people in local sports, and the school’s Under Armour sponsorship, a relationship that has morphed Saturday afternoon football games into fashion shows featuring large young men.  So much for those marketing classes I had back in the day that trumpeted the importance of establishing a brand image.  The Terps’ “image” has the shelf life of guacamole and their wardrobe is deeper than my wife’s.

If you remember this by-gone, prehistoric time when the Terps proudly and simply wore colors that matched the Maryland flag and helmets that just said, well, “Terps”, (the best things aren’t over-thought), then you might remember the Henderson brothers, E.J. and Erin, playing linebacker at College Park.  The Minnesota Vikings drafted E.J. in 2003; little brother Erin followed him to the land of purple Norsemen in 2008.  E.J. is now out of league but Erin was a starter for the Vikings this season until a DUI arrest in November.  He was profusely apologetic afterwards, cited compelling life-changes, and reclaimed his starting role by season’s end. 

On January 1st, Erin Henderson was arrested and charged with DUI – again - after his vehicle made the acquaintance of some very unlucky foliage.  He is now simply the latest in a long line of NFL players who have gotten behind the wheel after having far too much to drink.  In Henderson’s case, no one was injured.  That wasn’t the case when Rams defensive lineman Leonard Little killed Susan Gutweiler in 1998 or when Cowboys DT Josh Brent got liquored up and killed Jerry Brown, his Cowboys teammate, in December 2012. 

Whether Henderson has an alcohol addiction, is fighting other personal demons or is just too overcome with professional athlete syndrome, an unofficial affliction that infects the subject with a feeling of invincibility and logic-arresting ego, is unknown.  What isn’t in doubt is that the NFL, a league committed to player safety and protecting the image of “The Shield” (the league’s unmistakable logo), has a problem that it apparently doesn’t really mind.  The league routinely fines players for “excessive celebration” or wardrobe violations and suspends them for alleged usage of obscure performance-enhancing substances.  DUIs, though, often slip quickly through the headlines and the perpetrators, absent a history of behavioral issues, seldom suffer meaningful professional consequences. 

Yes, there is a difference between an allegation and a conviction, but the NFL has been extremely heavy-handed in doling out discipline for illegal hits and failed drug tests.  But DUIs?  Apparently those aren’t as problematic.  Personally, I’m more offended by a guy suiting up days after a DUI arrest than I am by a group of players celebrating a touchdown or using deer antler spray. 

Over the holidays I caught an ESPN E:60 piece on Southwest Minnesota State basketball coach Brad Bigler.  In 2011, Bigler was present when his mother drowned in a kayaking accident.  A year later, while traveling for a family get-a-way, a truck driven by Dana Schoen smashed into the Bigler’s vehicle killing Drake, Brad’s infant son.  Schoen was intoxicated and his decision to drive impaired snuffed out an innocent young life.  Do you know what separates Schoen and Henderson?  Dumb luck.  That’s it.  One harmlessly hit a tree; the other killed a child. 

I wonder if the possibility of vehicular homicide and its accompanying upheaval crossed the inebriated minds of either Henderson or Schoen.  It - the loss of human life, the worst of all consequences - should have.  It should also occur to the NFL.  It should also occur to anyone flirting with the idea of piloting a 2-ton machine down the highway with a belly full of booze.  You might make it home okay.  You could take out a tree.  Or you might kill a child.  Is it worth the gamble?  What would Bigler’s or Schoen’s answer be?  Henderson’s?  Yours?  Mine?  The answer must be no - without exception.  

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