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Have you ever had that feeling when you show up somewhere, and something is off?  You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it?  That eerie, sour sense of mystery likely flooded the air circulating through the Dallas Cowboys facility soon after the players arrived early Saturday morning, just hours after the death of one of their teammates.

It was an early wake-up for the Dallas Cowboys as meetings began at the training facility at 7:30am Saturday, with the team plane scheduled to take off for Cincinnati a few hours later, a source close to the team told PepperOnSports.   Once the players separated into groups, it became clear that two guys were missing from their respective meetings, third-year nose tackle Josh Brent, and rookie linebacker, Jerry Brown.  The players began talking amongst themselves, but were told only that there had been an “unfortunate accident,”  and no details were provided by team personnel, according to the source. 

It wasn’t until the team had boarded the charter plane in the afternoon that the players received the bad news from head coach Jason Garrett.  Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident, and Josh Brent - who was driving when his car flipped at 2:21am after hitting a curb at high speeds - had been arrested for DUI and manslaughter. 

Brent and Brown were on their way home from Privae nightclub in Dallas, where a dozen Cowboys players had spent the evening partying with comedian Shawn Wayans, according to a source close to the team.  The Privae website advertises free entry with an RSVP every Friday and promotes an evening with celebrity guest host Shawn Wayans for December 7.  Most bars and clubs in Dallas close at 2am.  

Not that there is ever a good time to learn that one coworker is dead and another is being blamed for it, but right before a two-and-a-half hour flight, without the comfort of friends or family outside of the office seems like a tough way to receive the news.   When asked about the mood of the players during the flight, the source replied, “silence on the plane.”  That was perhaps the longest flight of those mens’ lives.

(Update: “The team couldn’t immediately reveal the details because Brown’s next-of-kin had not been notified,” according to USA Today)

This takes us back eight days ago, in the wake of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins, before killing himself at Arrowhead Stadium in front of KC’s general manager and head coach.  As of last Friday, there was no precedent in dealing with the murder/suicide carried out by n active NFL player, much less with the suicide happening in front of team personnel at the stadium.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time an active NFL player has died in a car accident during the season.  Atlanta Falcons players Ralph Norwood and Brad Beckman were killed in separate car accidents less than a month apart during the 1989 season.

The Chiefs operated under a microscope last week, every decision and movement dissected by the media.  One can only imagine the level of interest and examination facing the Cowboys, a team whose 6-6 record - now seemingly inconsequential in comparison - is the subject of daily debate on both the local and national level.   It should be interesting to watch the ensuing behavior of frequently scrutinized Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the wake of this tragedy. 

Hopefully the appropriate mental health support will be offered to players and team personnel for the remainder of the season.  One can only imagine the emotional weight the Cowboys will carry with them on to the field Sunday against the Bengals.  

LSU’s Claiborne Gets The Call Of A Lifetime

This is why we love sports.

Not only was the American football-loving public shocked when the Dallas Cowboys catapulted themselves eight spots up in the NFL draft (via trade), but the young man whom team owner Jerry Jones selected with the No. 6 overall pick was taken by surprise to the point of near-silence.

Morris Claiborne, the nation’s top-ranked cornerback out of LSU never even thought about the possibility of playing for the Cowboys, his family’s favorite team.  Why would he, as Claiborne expected to be drafted early in the first round while Dallas was nearly halfway down in the draft order with the  No. 14 pick overall. 

So when Claiborne answered his phone and realized Jerry Jones was unexpectedly on the line, (click on the video above to hear their conversation),  the 22-year-old Louisiana native was absolutely stunned. 

"I looked back at my family, and they were like, ‘Who is it?’ " Claiborne told the press at Radio City Music Hall. "And I was like, ‘The Cowboys.’ Just to see the look on their face, it’s just melted me."

The voice of his new bosses melted Claiborne too, as you can hear the Jim Thorpe Award winner break down in tears while trying to digest the moment he had likely dreamed about since childhood. 

Between twitter and the media leaking information about picks before they happen, this is quite a remarkable conversation as we rarely get to see true, raw emotion at the draft these days.  Congrats to Mr. Claiborne and to the Cowboys as well, who seem to have gambled on one grateful and hard-working young man. 

       


Have you ever set foot in an MLB dugout? I would rather lick a city sidewalk then walk barefoot in a dugout.  I’m not kidding.  The dirt, water, Gatorade and sunflower seeds aren’t so bad, but puddles of brown chew spit with floating pieces of tobacco, mucus, and bits of food that only one’s dental floss should see is what really gets me. 

The truth is that disgusting dugouts doesn’t even make the list of important reasons why a group of senators and health officials from St. Louis and Dallas are asking the players union to agree to toss the tins and play a tobacco-free World Series. 

In April of this year the U.S. Congress held hearings on banning smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball and even MLB commissioner Bug Selig supports the idea.  With the players not on board (we’ll get to that in a minute), all that a group of senators could do was send letters to the players union urging them to consider the impact that chewing tobacco and dipping during the nationally televised World Series, which begins Wednesday, could have on millions of children. 

The Associated Press obtained the letters sent by Democrat senators from Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Iowa to union head Michael Weiner,  which read, in part, “when players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example.”

Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of this year so putting the pressure on at this time is a strategic move in hopes of implementing a ban through the next CBA.  In June, Weiner said the union would make an effort to address the issue in negotiations, but a few months earlier when the issue came up on Capitol Hill in April, the Major League Players Association said it discourages players from using smokeless tobacco but would not encourage a ban on the practice. David Prouty of the Players Association said at the time, “We will educate players as to why they should not use it. There is a tension here, because many players do not think they should be banned from using a product which congress has so far, deemed to be legal.”

Flawed logic my friend.  Alcohol is legal, yet not allowed to be consumed on the baseball diamond (don’t feel bad for these guys, as we now know, some are drinking during the games inside the clubhouse instead of on the bench, so no biggie there).  Cigarettes are also banned from stadiums, and are even outlawed from being smoked on city streets in places like Calabasas and Santa Monica, California, yet are still legal to purchase and use elsewhere.  In fact, smokeless tobacco has been banned in both collegiate and minor league baseball for decades. 

A few months ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble did a story on smokeless tobacco in baseball, claiming nearly one third of MLB players use it.  Ike Davis of the New York Mets, who started the habit at age 16 said, “why would you want to start that? It dissent make sense.”  Reporter Jon Frankel followed up asking, “so why do you keep doing it?” Davis replied, “it’s called addiction.”

Many baseball players who dip or chew will tell you it’s a disgusting habit they wish they never picked up.  So why would you want to expose others to that same fate? In his piece, Frankel interviewed a dentist and professor of public health at Harvard University who studied the topic.  The New England native conducted a study using the 2004 World Series featuring his hometown Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.  The study found nine whole minutes worth of public use, as in, noticeably seeing tobacco on screen (chewing, spitting, bulge in the mouth, etc), and that five million children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were watching. 

While many players feel like an official ban is too much policing for their liking, I would argue that they are already policed in just about everything from daily schedules to the uniforms they wear.  The AP article about the tobacco-free World Series plea says that some players are open to the ban on smokeless tobacco, which is great.

Athletes and entertainers alike often say that they shouldn’t be our children’s role models, but that we, as parents should be the ones setting examples for our kids.  I agree, in large part, which is all the more reason why I think smokeless tobacco, which is a proven cause of several cancers, should be banned from major league ballparks.

As a reporter covering the Boston Red Sox, not one day went by where I didn’t see several canisters of chewing tobacco in almost every locker in the clubhouse.  Those shiny tins were always the first things on the shelves to grab my attention for some reason.  I wonder if the same was true for now 7-year-olds D’Angelo Ortiz and little Victor Martinez, both of whom would come to work with their daddies, David and Victor, donning little uniforms and all, nearly every single home game.  I hope Cardinals and Rangers players consider their own children before scooping some dip into their mouths on Wednesday night. 

For the Associated Press article with all of the details of the senators’ efforts to have a tobacco-free World Series, click here  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ivlkZ-nWu3Um7FF-xOcWDxhf91Jw?docId=833af3149044498e8e6a6d05a26974f7

To watch the Real Sports with Bryant Gumble story on tobacco in baseball , click here  http://tobaccofreeaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/hbo-real-sports-looks-at-potential-smokeless-tobacco-ban-in-baseball/