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Thursday, July 11, 2013
Alcohol coursing through NFL incidents

By Mike Sando

Alcohol abuse has been a common denominator for a run of incidents involving NFL personnel.

News that Denver Broncos executive Matt Russell registered a .246 percent blood-alcohol reading after ramming into a police cruiser put an ugly exclamation point on the situation this week. Tom Nalen, the Broncos' retired former center, called the team cowardly for how it handled another team exec, Tom Heckert, following a DUI arrest a month earlier.

A witness in the murder case implicating New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, since waived by the team, said Hernandez and Odin Lloyd were drinking in excess days before Lloyd's murder. In an unrelated case, authorities arrested Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on suspicion of DUI.

Here in the NFC West, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks could face charges following a June incident reportedly involving alcohol. Brooks allegedly used a beer bottle to strike teammate and designated driver Lamar Divens in the head three times.

The NFL and the 49ers have not yet taken action regarding Brooks, but as the alcohol-related incidents pile up around the league, the issue begs for renewed emphasis.

The league has been focused hard on player safety. Public safety is important, too. As Nalen said regarding the Broncos, perhaps swift and decisive public action against Heckert would have dissuaded Russell from registering a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit for driving.

It's unclear what will happen regarding Brooks. He had revived his career with the 49ers after a rocky tenure in Cincinnati that included a 2008 assault allegation. The 49ers signed Brooks to an extension last offseason. At the time, Brooks pledged to make sure he remained in good standing to avoid being cast off the way Cincinnati let him go.

"I pretty much told myself that I would never let that happen," Brooks said in February 2012. "Regardless of what goes on in my life, I will never let this happen again. I pretty much had to reevaluate myself as a player and a person to become the best person and the best football player I could be, because it's not going to last forever.

"And then once you retire from the game or once the NFL says no to you, we don't want you to play anymore, you want to go out knowing you did all you can do. And that's where I'm at with myself."

The 49ers had three linebackers named first-team Associated Press All-Pro last season. Brooks was named to the second team. Rookie third-round choice Corey Lemonier and former veteran starter Parys Haralson give the 49ers alternatives at outside linebacker.

Brooks, 29, saw his 2013 salary drop from $4.3 million to $2.7 million when contract incentives were not met. His deal carries $1.5 million in annual bonus proration through 2016, money the team still must account for under the salary cap whether or not Brooks remains with the team.