Jackson’s death reveals flaw in pro sports

by Gary Shelton on February 18, 2021

in general

Was Vincent Jackson a victim of his culture?/CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 9 a.m.

A team wins a big game, and someone pops the champagne.

A team wins a little game, and someone cracks open a beer.

There is a flight for a road trip, and it, too, is fueled by alcohol. The team gathers in a hotel lobby, and the players shuffle off to a sports bar. There is an off-day gathering at a restaurant, and someone brings wine.

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And so it goes. Sports, like the rest of society, likes its booze. It passes rules against drugs -- including painkillers -- because that is treated as a sin. But booze is okay. Heck, have you seen the commercials? You get the idea that Budweiser invented the touchdown. We grew up in an age where the teams were "less filling" and "tastes great."

None of this is new, of course.

But the death of Vincent Jackson makes the topic seem fresh.

According to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, one of the preliminary findings in the death of former Bucs' wide receiver Vincent Jackson was chronic alcoholism. He died at the age of 38, which is a tragedy in itself. Young, physically fit athletes should not go so early.

The family of Jackson says it will wait for the full autopsy, but can there really be good news there? Jackson is gone, dead after strange circumstances led him to an extended-stay hotel. No one should want to jump the gun, but a death at the age of 38 does not have a happy ending.

Now consider another scene, the one where Kansas City linebackers coach Britt Reid was driving after drinking. An accident left a 5-year-old hurt and struggling. She is awake now, but damage has been done.

Another scene? The University of Minnesota just announced that it will allow alcohol to sponsor its events.

Another scene? Evidently, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman used to sip tequila in the broadcast booth, which may explain some things.

Another scene? Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian talks about he has "evolved" from drinking problems.

So much for Gatorade commercials, huh?

It has always been this way. Babe Ruth was a notorious drinker. You've heard the stories of Mickie Mantle and Joe Namath and Max McGee. But these days, no one should be toasting. Too often, we have romanticized alcohol because drugs seemed to be the more harmful vice.

I didn't know Jackson well. He had a reputation as a great team player for the Bucs -- he was elected captain -- but he didn't have any use for the media. I tried to talk to him once, and he informed me that Friday was his day to talk. But I didn't write for Saturday. I tried to talk him into it, but he wasn't particularly fond of talking on any day. So I wrote something else.

Still, he was generous with the military, and his teammates seemed to like him.

No, the full autopsy is not in yet. But I choose to think of Jackson as a victim of his culture more than a villain. In sports, alcoholism is the punctuation to the story of sports.

Jackson is gone.

But a lot of lives are still at risk.

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