CINCINNATI – Josh Brent had the ultimate warning on Feb. 21, 2009.
The police pulled Brent over that night near the Illinois campus, arresting him for driving drunk and with a suspended license and ticketing him for speeding, before anybody was hurt or killed because of his careless decision to get behind the wheel.
In June of that year, Brent was sentenced to two years probation and 60 days in the Champaign County jail. He was released after serving half that time and resumed his football career.
“You get a new outlook on life and some of the mistakes I’ve made,” Brent told the Chicago Tribune in 2009. “You realize a lot of things, how naïve and how dumb you can be sometimes.”
It’s a shame that lesson apparently didn’t stick. The consequences are much more severe after Brent’s second arrest related to driving under the influence of alcohol.
Cowboys practice-squad linebacker Jerry Brown, Brent’s close friend and former college teammate, is dead at 25. Brent is facing a second-degree felony intoxication manslaughter charge, punishable by two to 20 years in prison, and a life sentence of grief and guilt.
"I am devastated and filled with grief," Brent said in a statement through his agent, Peter Schaffer. "Filled with grief for the loss of my close friend and teammate, Jerry Brown. I am also grief-stricken for his family, friends and all who were blessed enough to have known him. I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life. My prayers are with his family, our teammates and his friends at this time."
The Cowboys knew Brent came with character red flags when they selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 supplemental draft. They had investigated his arrest and the academic issues that caused him to leave Illinois early.
It was a gamble that had paid off until the tragic turn of events a little after 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
Brent was a solid NFL nose tackle, playing well as a part-time starter for the Cowboys, coming off the highlight of his career when he forced a fumble that cornerback Morris Claiborne returned for a touchdown that essentially sealed the Cowboys’ win last week over Philadelphia. Brent had positioned himself to be a multi-millionaire after his rookie contract expired at the end of next season, if the Cowboys didn’t sign him to a lucrative extension before then.
But Brent’s success as a football player and his reputation for being a hard-working, loyal teammate are mere footnotes now. He’ll forever be remembered for the grisly scene in the wee hours of Saturday morning in the 1400 block of East State Highway 114 in Irving, where his speeding Mercedes hit a curb, flipped at least once and skidded an estimated 900 feet. Officers arrived at the scene to see Brent trying to drag his friend out of the burning car.
Now, Brent’s NFL career is probably over. His good friend is gone forever. And he’ll live forever with the horrific consequences of a horrible decision he’d made at least once before.