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Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Let Josh Brent stand on sideline

By LZ Granderson
ESPN.com

There are a lot of people in a position to weigh in on whether Josh Brent should be allowed on the Dallas Cowboys' sideline. But no voice should be greater than that of Stacey Jackson, the mother of the man who died because Brent was allegedly driving drunk.

"I've forgiven him," she said. "He has enough on his plate with just reliving the whole thing over and over, and that's going to be for the rest of his life."

After Jerry Brown's mother, the next important group of people are Brent's teammates, and they want him there.

Josh Brent
Josh Brent, left, won't be on the Cowboys' sideline again this year.

So as far as I'm concerned, he should be allowed to be there.

Supporting.

Being supported.

Trying to heal.

And yes, even Brent should be supported and allowed to heal. Even Brent deserves a chance for redemption -- not by playing football but by doing what he can to make amends to society and those he has hurt the most. If convicted in this case, he should be subjected to the fullest punishment of our laws. It would be his second offense for the same crime. But if we don't allow for his healing and redemption, then there's no justice in those laws.

Everyone deals with tragedy differently; everyone heals differently.

If Brent's attendance is what Brown's family and teammates need to help them through this process, then the league and team officials need to step out of the way and allow for it. The rest of us can have our opinions, but we can't be dictating to Jackson or the Cowboys how to handle their grief. We're in touch with our own comfort level -- great for us -- but thankfully we're also light-years away from what Jackson and others in Brown's family are dealing with.

When I was a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution I got to know a few of the players with the then-Atlanta Thrashers, now the Winnipeg Jets.

One of those guys was Dan Snyder, your typical undersized, hardworking overachiever who didn't play much but was a fan favorite anyway because he played so hard. Away from the ice, Dan was just a good guy. He was even nominated for the humanitarian of the year award when he played in the Ontario Hockey League.

On the night of Sept. 29, 2003, Snyder was riding in a black Ferrari 360 Modena, driven by his teammate, close friend and roommate Dany Heatley. At some point the car reached 80 mph on a curvy street in a residential area. Heatley lost control and crashed into brick pillar. After six days in a coma, Snyder died from injuries sustained in the crash. He was only 25 … the same age as the Cowboys' Brown.

Aside from the fact that police said alcohol did not play a role in Heatley's crash, the two stories are very similar. Even down to perhaps the most important detail: a family's forgiveness. Snyder's parents forgave Heatley, argued against sending him to jail, and because of that, both parties have been able to heal in their own way. Or at least as much as loved ones can from such a devastating loss.

Some time after Snyder's death, I was out having drinks with a Thrashers official and neither of us thought we could do what Snyder's family did. We both hurt for them, but we were not them. We loved Dan, but he was their child. Their willingness to forgive was a testament to their faith and made it possible for Heatley to try to forgive himself for his role in the death of his friend. Nearly 10 years later, I doubt Heatley has forgiven himself any more than the Snyder family has stopped hurting for the loss of their son. But this was the way they chose to try, and none of us are in a position to tell them that they're wrong.

Dan Snyder and Dany Heatley
Dan Snyder, left, died after a car driven by teammate Dany Heatley crashed.

Said Brown's grandmother Theresa Clark last week, "if anybody should be mad, we should be mad. But we're not mad."

"That boy loved him. That was his friend. It was just an accident."

Seeing Brent on the sideline may have made some of us uncomfortable, but I doubt his presence made anyone forget about the dangers of drinking and driving. If anything, his presence was a constant reminder for anyone in the stands, watching at home, and, of course, his teammates.

I don't know whether Jackson is going to argue to keep Brent out of jail the way the Snyder family came out in support of Heatley. And even if she does, I don't know whether that would have any effect on the court's decision. But seeing Jackson's level of compassion for someone who has caused her such pain has had an effect on me.

I can opine, other sportswriters can opine, league and team officials can ban, but only those who hurt the most have the power to forgive. And when it comes to tragedies like these, the power to forgive is probably the greatest power of all.