Cowboys player death raises question of safety net


Cowboys player death raises question of safety net

IRVING, Texas (AP) San Francisco 49ers defensive end Demarcus Dobbs walked away from a one-vehicle accident on his 25th birthday last month and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Less than two weeks later, with the NFL rocked by the car crash that killed Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown and left his teammate, Josh Brent, facing a manslaughter charge, Dobbs swears he'll find another way home whenever he does too much partying.

``I'm never going to put myself in that situation ever again,'' he said.

This is, of course, exactly what the NFL, its teams and the players' union wants to hear amid fresh questions about whether all the warnings and safety nets - because players in most of the major sports leagues arguably have more than the general public - will ever be enough to prevent accidents and deaths.

``There's a lot of pressure being in the NFL ... but it's no excuse for bad decisions,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. ``Players have a lot of options, tools at their disposal, that they need to take advantage of, but it comes down to individuals making good decisions.''

Brown's death on Saturday and the arrest of defensive tackle Josh Brent after police say he caused the fatal wreck by speeding and driving drunk put the NFL Players Association's safe ride program back in the spotlight. It was revamped three years ago after concerns that enough players weren't using it.

Union spokesman Carl Francis said the program is a strong point of emphasis, and every player's membership card includes the contact information. And CEO John Glavin of Florida-based Corporate Security Solutions Inc., which runs the program, said he is happy with how the union gets the word out on the program.

He also stressed the confidentiality of the program, saying the company doesn't even tell the union when players call for rides.

Jacksonville cornerback CB Rashean Mathis, the team's union representative, said players rarely, if ever, use the program.

``Confidentiality is the problem,'' Mathis said. ``Guys are going to go out and have fun. We're just like the regular guy that works a 9-to-5 job. On a Friday night, he goes out and has some beer. It's not the best-case scenario, but it happens in life.''

To use the program, players can either work in advance to set up a full night with a driver or make a call for a ride home. The brochure says most response times are less than an hour. The program is available all year, and Glavin said his company also serves the NBA and NHL.

In Major League Baseball, designated drivers are available to players and fans through the teams, and the players have access to a confidential program that will take them wherever they need to go.

In the NFL, some teams rely solely on the NFLPA's program, while others have an additional system. In Cincinnati, the Bengals pay a company to make two drivers available when an employee calls. One drives the caller home, and the other follows in the employee's vehicle.

Glavin said some players hesitate to use that kind of program because they don't want others driving their expensive vehicles. Either way, the program hinges on a player making the first move.

``We can't make them make the phone call,'' Glavin said.

Last summer, the NFL held its 15th annual rookie orientation, which includes a number of life skills sessions. For the first time, separate sessions were held for the AFC and NFC to make the groups smaller, and current and former players were brought in as speakers, including Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick and Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones. Both have had high-profile legal problems, with Vick spending time in prison in a dogfighting case.

The NFL has sessions on issues ranging from guns to alcohol and drug use at other times of the years, and all teams have counselors who work with players, league spokesman Dan Masonson said.

League owners are gathering in the Dallas area Wednesday. The agenda was set to focus in part on player safety through the addition of leg padding, but it's likely to change. A week before Brown's death, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before driving to the team's stadium and shooting himself in front of his coach and general manager.

``I am sure the events of the past two weeks will be discussed at the league meeting,'' league spokesman Greg Aiello said. ``We are always looking to do more.''

Several coaches said Monday they were talking again about issues of safety and good decisions after Brown's death. They also acknowledged there was only so much they could do, as did Mathis.

``We're not immune from life because we're athletes,'' Mathis said. ``We're not, but there are smarter choices.''


AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Larry Lage, Mark Long and Joe Kay contributed to this report.


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Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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