Cowboys wrong to have Brent on sideline

The Dallas Cowboys won their fifth game out of six to move into a three-way tie in the NFC East. They are playing very well, grinding out tough games and have pushed their way into the playoff race, and for that they should be commended. I have plenty of thoughts on this and will share them as the day and the week goes on. But I wanted to address this Josh Brent issue first.

The Cowboys had Brent with them on the sideline Sunday, eight days after he was in jail on intoxication manslaughter charges for the accident that cost teammate Jerry Brown his life. This happened at the request of Brent's teammates, who defended it after the game, and apparently with the blessing of Brown's mother, who also has a close relationship with Brent and wants to make sure he's cared for as he endures a difficult time with the rest of those who loved Brown. From ESPN Dallas:

Coach Jason Garrett said Brown's mother, Stacey Jackson, asked the team to support Brent as he grieves, and that being around the team should be considered a positive.

Jason Hatcher said he's hoping Brent can come to Dallas' remaining regular-season games, next week against New Orleans and the finale against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md.

"His teammates asked him to come and be down there with them, and that's where we are," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Brent. "I do know that certainly that there's the other side of the coin (where he shouldn't be there), but this is a case that the people that arguably he's the closest to (his teammates) really wanting him around for him."

I get that it's a difficult time. I get that Brent is dealing with a level of pain and guilt most of us cannot, thankfully, comprehend. I fully support the idea of his friends and loved ones supporting him as he deals with the consequences of his rotten, stupid, selfish, inexcusable actions. I just don't think he should be there on the sideline during nationally televised football games.

I think it sends the wrong message, plain and simple. Drunken driving is already a crime too easily swept under the rug, by our society and our sports leagues. Teams and leagues in position to make a strong public statement about the seriousness of drunken driving have not. Stricter penalties can and should be imposed, but they are not. And while I don't think the Cowboys were condoning drunken driving by publicly welcoming Brent back so soon, they certainly weren't taking a strong stand against it.

And that's the point. There are plenty of ways to show compassion and support and forgiveness. There are six days a week when the Cowboys aren't on TV at all. If they want Brent around them in the locker room, or on the practice field, so he knows they're there to prop him up, that's their perfect right as his friend and as fellow human beings.

But when the players and/or Brown's mother went to the Cowboys and said they wanted Brent on the sideline, the Cowboys (or the NFL, for that matter) should have said no. They should have considered the request and all of the valid emotional reasons behind it, but ultimately the Cowboys and the NFL should have made the decision based on their existence as very public entities. They should have said, "While we appreciate your desire to show this young man support, this is not a way in which we are comfortable doing so, because it sends the wrong message about where we stand on the acceptability of the crime with which he is charged." The idea that the grieving mother should get to decide who stands on the sideline at a Cowboys game is a poor leap of logic. The Cowboys ultimately decided this was OK, and they should have decided otherwise.

Drunken driving isn't an NFL problem. It's a societal problem. But like it or not, the Cowboys and the NFL are in a position to set an example for the many people who watch their games. And it's not as though they would necessarily have sent a strong anti-drunken driving message by keeping Brent off the sideline, because it's likely no one would have thought twice. But by allowing him on the sideline, the Cowboys feed into the ambiguity that unfortunately surrounds this issue about which there should be none. Drunken driving is a serious problem and at some point somebody in one of these sports leagues should seize an opportunity to say that out loud.