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For NFL, games return after another tragic weekend

5:58 AM, Dec 9, 2012   |    comments
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Tragedy has again overshadowed America's favorite game.

A week after a Kansas City Chiefs player killed his girlfriend and then himself, this Saturday brought another NFL death, another NFL crime -- and another NFL team taking the field the day after a teammate died.

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent is in jail, facing a second-degree felony charge of intoxication manslaughter stemming from the car accident that killed his friend, roommate and teammate, Jerry Brown, a member of the practice squad.

Brent and Brown were also teammates at the University of Illinois.

Police in Irving, Texas, said Brent was driving his Mercedes-Benz sedan well above the 45-mph speed limit when it hit a curb, skidded nearly 900 feet and flipped multiple times. When police arrived, the car was on fire and Brent was pulling Brown from the wreckage.

Police said alcohol was a factor in the crash.

"It's sad. Very sad. It's tragic for everybody," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday.

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As Brent sat in jail Saturday, his teammates traveled to Cincinnati, where they today will play the Bengals without him. Brown's family will begin making funeral arrangements.

While Cowboys coach Jason Garrett privately met with his players and staff before their flight to Ohio to tell them Brown was dead and Brent was in jail, a dozen Chiefs players were 200 miles away in Austin at a memorial service for Kasandra Perkins in her hometown.

The Chiefs played last weekend, too, winning their game against the Carolina Panthers, and tried to return to football life as normal last week. Only it wasn't normal, and how could it have been?

Jovan Belcher's locker was still intact in the locker room, just like he left it Nov. 30, the day before he killed Perkins and himself. The team attended, en masse, a memorial service for Belcher on Wednesday, during a time they would normally be holding game-planning meetings.

The Cowboys face similar circumstances. The NFL dispatched its team of counselors to the Cowboys hotel in Cincinnati, and on Sunday night the team will return to Dallas to face the reality that one teammate's actions left another one dead.

Brown had been a member of the Cowboys since late September, when he was signed to the practice squad. He had never played in an NFL game, but just getting one of those eight practice-squad spots brought him closer to that goal after he played in the Canadian and Arena football leagues and with the Colts in training camp.

"Not everything went right in Jerry's life, but he kept persevering, the fact that he made it into the league, I really respected that," said former Illinois teammate Brit Miller, a former player with the St. Louis Rams.

As the Cowboys head to Paul Brown Stadium today, Brent will face a judge, and not for the first time. He pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2009 while at Illinois -- an incident for which he was suspended from the football team -- and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, two years probation and 200 hours of community service.

With Brown's death, the stakes are even greater for Brent this time. If convicted of the second-degree felony, he would serve at least two years in prison, with a maximum sentence of 20 years, along with a maximum $10,000 fine. He could also face additional discipline from the NFL, which preaches alcohol education in its "life skills" program.

Through his agent, Peter Schaffer, Brent issued a statement Saturday night that said, "I am devastated and filled with grief. 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."

Brent is at least the fourth NFL player charged with DUI this season, along with the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner, the New York Giants' David Diehl and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Justin Blackmon.

"The NFL provides extensive substance abuse and driver's education throughout the year as part of our ongoing mandatory life skills programs beginning in the player's rookie season," said Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of player engagement. "In addition to holding players accountable through our long-standing league discipline for substance abuse and alcohol-related violations of the law, we emphasize personal responsibility and decision-making."

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