On the surface, it looks like a great match made to promote safety and fight the fight against DUI: the NFL Players Union partners with taxi-hailing app Uber to provide safe rides home for players. But, in reality, it shows just how bad things have gotten for the league dealing with an epidemic of DUI issues. Case in point: this graf from the N.Y. Times story on the deal.
The service, which is available in more than half of the N.F.L.’s cities, will allow players and their families to hail a ride in minutes with a few taps on their phone. Uber’s service would complement an existing program run by the union in which players can summon a car by placing a phone call. Because Uber relies on G.P.S., players will not need to know the precise address of their location to get a ride home. This generation is more tied to having a mobile device, said DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the players association, who has used Uber for more than a year. If we can move to a world where we are using the phenomenon to increase the safety of our players, then the partnership with Uber is a no-brainer.
Talk about burying the lede here: the Players Union already has a program in which players can get a ride by simply making a phone call. Not only that, but the Players Union seems so desperate to get players to use this app, they’re giving players $200 in free credits to use the app. Also, the app is only available in 17 of the NFL’s 32 cities and given travel schedules week-to-week, many players may not find the option available during the season.
(Side note: given the recent fight between former players and the league regarding concussions, Smith could have picked a better phrase than “no-brainer.”)
That said, I’ll give credit where it’s due: at least the Players Union is taking yet another step to curtail the issue. (An attempt to strengthen DUI penalties is in a holding pattern while the league and union sort out HGH testing policies.) One need only scan the U-T San Diego database of player arrests to see how bad it’s gotten: I counted 11 DUI/DWI charges since the beginning of 2013. Plus, there have been high-profile DUI incidents like Eric Wright, traded after several DUIs, and the Dallas Cowboys’ Josh Brent, charged with the death of his teammate Jerry Brown, Jr., stemming from a car crash last December during which Brent was alleged to have been driving drunk.
The deal with Uber is a step in the right direction, for sure, but it’s still mostly a PR move. If players couldn’t be bothered to make a phone call or just hand the keys over to a buddy, will they really be trusted to fiddle with an app after a night of drinking? The Players Union can continue to hold hands all they want but until they crack down with real penalties, the DUI arrests will continue to pile up for players, an epidemic that is ultimately just as deadly as the fight against concussions.