The Definition of Forgiveness
The unthinkable happened in the NFL on back-to-back weekends. While we were still trying to process a murder-suicide by a Chiefs linebacker, a Dallas Cowboys player died at the hands of a teammate who was driving drunk. Nose tackle Josh Brent got behind the wheel of his Mercedes with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit; and while speeding through the Dallas suburbs, he ran into a curb and flipped his vehicle. His longtime friend Jerry Brown was pronounced dead soon after. The 25-year-old Brown had just earned a spot on the Cowboys practice squad. He was also an expectant father.
Unthinkable, unfathomable, and preventable if the pair doesn’t get in the car…if Brent doesn’t risk the life of the man he calls his “very best friend” by choosing to drive while intoxicated. Cowboys players and coaches offered their support for Brent after he posted bail on intoxication manslaughter charges. They hung his jersey in the visitors’ locker room in Cincinnati the day after the crash. Head coach Jason Garrett told reporters, “We want to embrace Josh and let him know that this is a good place for him. Being around Valley Ranch, being around his teammates is a good thing for him…he’s certainly welcome to be there.” In the week since the tragedy, Brent has visited with Garrett and team doctors. All signs point to the Cowboys wanting to keep Brent in the fold, though he faces charges and potential discipline from the league. Somewhere in my brain, I can understand the organizational support since Brent is a member of the Cowboys family, and NFL players often refer to themselves as a fraternity of brothers.
What I can barely grasp is the response from Jerry Brown’s actual family. His mother Stacey Jackson requested that Brent meet her at the airport when she flew in for a memorial service. Not just that, but she asked him to sit with the family during the service. The man responsible for the death of her 25-year-old son was right next to her the whole time. That floors me. I’m not a mom yet, but I do have two nieces who mean the world to me. I also have two brothers, one of whom is Brown’s age. I’m not naive enough to think I would show the same grace and mercy to a drunk driver who ended one of their lives, especially not in the 72 hours after it happened. But this mother who lost her son far too soon invited Brent to spend time with her, grieve with her, cry and mourn with her. I’m blown away by her forgiveness.
Yes, God asks us to forgive those who hurt us…hate the sin while loving the sinner. But in so many cases, it’s easier said than done. I’ve always despised drunk driving. When I was in high school, I won a series of speech contests with my passionate appeal to end drunk driving. In my opinion, it’s inexcusable to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when your judgment, cognition, and motor skills are impaired. In the eyes of the US justice system, it’s manslaughter; but to me, it’s murder if you end a human life while driving under the influence. The risks are scientific and well-documented, so I’ll never understand how people believe they can dodge the risks. It’s a game of Russian roulette with a motor vehicle.
Josh Brent weighs 320 pounds, and officials estimate he would need roughly 20 shots over 4 hours to raise his blood-alcohol level to .18 where it was at the time of the crash. As a starter in the NFL, he can easily pay for a cab OR he can use the free car service available to all players. He did neither. He climbed into his car to drive home after a night of partying, sped through the suburbs in the dark, flipped his vehicle, and killed his best friend. I’m sure he’s heartbroken and racked with guilt. He’s also forgiven. In spite of her anguish and a flood of uncontrollable emotion, Jerry Brown’s mom embraced Brent as part of the family. Stacey Jackson delivered the most powerful message in sports this week, a lesson I’ll never forget. Forgiveness is an action, not a feeling.