On Jeremy Jeffress, alcohol, and society’s acceptance through inaction
By now, you’ve seen the details of Jeremy Jeffress‘ arrest for DWI early Friday morning. His teammates, coaches, and front office have weighed in on his choices. He sits on the Restricted List, waiting for MLB to do the same. A fine is all but guaranteed, a suspension likely but not set in stone. For now, his career and life are in limbo, held in the hands of others. He has no control over his existence, a scary but albeit deserved state.
This isn’t a piece justifying what Jeffress did, because there’s no justification to be had. In this day and age, there’s no reason to drive drunk. Choosing to do so is a stupid, selfish, and dangerous action. He will deserve whatever punishment he receives. My sincere hope is that this embarrassing moment in life changes Jeffress, making him a better man. He can look no further than across the clubhouse to see what that looks like. Matt Bush did several terrible things involving alcohol and vehicles, before paying the price. Since then, he’s shown remorse and actively worked towards being a better person. We’re a forgiving society on the whole. Jeffress can overcome this, even if it won’t be easy.
That said, Jeffress’ actions cast a reflection on our society at large. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we share fault when people commit this crime of selfish stupidity.
To understand my view on this, you have to understand our country’s obsession with alcohol. There’s no other way to classify it; America has a love affair with booze that is undeniable and unstoppable. Turn on your television and count the minutes until you see a commercial for some form of alcohol. You likely won’t wait long. That time is even shorter when you’re watching a sporting event. Turn on a radio, look at a billboard, everywhere you look alcohol advertising is there.
Inside those commercials isn’t a photo of Jeffress from early Friday morning, one of self-urination and humiliation before a jail trip. It isn’t a photo of Bush, who sat in a prison cell with the knowledge he almost killed someone. It’s young beautiful people partying, enjoying themselves while declaring how great life is with alcohol. If you appeared on Earth with no knowledge of anything and watched an alcohol commercial, you’d think beer and hard liquor were the best things ever. The message is clear: Drink alcohol and your life is a party. When you buy that six, twelve, twenty-four, or thirty pack you’re injecting excitement into your existence. If you want to have fun, you need booze.
Where can you get this magic elixir of good times and happiness? Just about anywhere. The places you can’t buy certain types, companies are fighting to sell it there also. Sporting events for most feel incomplete without grabbing an $8 beer or $10+ dollar mixed drink. That’s the experience the major sports leagues and teams, all with humongous alcohol sponsorship deals, peddle. Go to a sporting event, grab a beer and hot dog while cheering on (insert team here).
It’s not just sporting events, though. Everyday life is infested with the idea that alcohol is not a pleasure, but a necessity required for enjoyment. One company went so far as to brand their beer “America” this summer. There’s no more perfect metaphor for the pervasive nature of alcohol in the modern day US than that. We are one nation, under suds, with whiskey and craft beers for all.
This isn’t categorically a bad thing. I have no problem if people want to drink. If you’re of legal age and want to have a beer at a game, go for it. If you come home from a rough day at work wanting a Jack and Coke, be my guest. Even if you drink to excess, as long as you don’t get behind the wheel or harm anyone in general, I don’t have much to say against it.
With this acceptance of our nation’s alcohol soaked state, however, comes downsides. The downside of putting alcohol everywhere is people wanting to take it into their cars. On average 1.5 million people will be arrested for DWI/DUI in America every year. Texas in specific routinely ranks near the nation’s leaders in alcohol-related vehicle fatalities. You don’t see those facts on the alcohol commercials. Instead, you get a brief and insincere “Please drink responsibly” flashed as the commercial ends. Sometimes it’s written in script so tiny you’d need the Hubble telescope to read it. They make sure it’s there, but not so clear that it casts a pall over the dancing young people. The inconvenient reality of alcohol consumption won’t interfere with the image the companies who profit off it want you to hold.
One would think that with these inherent negatives, we would legislate heavier penalties for violators. Not so much. In Texas, the minimum you spend in jail is 3 days for a first offense. The most you can have your license suspended for is a year. For a state that uses the Law of Parties to sentence people to death, the lenient penalties for this crime are perplexing and disappointing.
It isn’t surprising, however. DWI is largely a crime of empathy. Plenty of people rationalize lower crimes and sympathy for people who drive drunk because they’ve done it or could imagine doing it. They treat the offender and laws not for what they are, but how they’d want to be treated under them. It’s the reason why drug laws and capital punishment are accepted and even glorified. Fewer people use drugs, even fewer people murder others. Put in simple terms, those laws are a big bunch of “not my problem.” The one involving an activity glorified nationwide, that large numbers of adults participate in?
There are still people who express shock and disdain that this happens. Maybe not specifically a Jeffress, Bush, or other but just in general. They act as if these actions, and similar cases to them, are outliers. That they’re just rogue na’er do wells, blotches on an otherwise clean record.
It can’t be that.
Not when everywhere we turn, we’re confronted by alcohol. When we decide we want, nay need, alcohol to enjoy live and make existence bearable this is the consequence. We accept that this will happen, and our general lack of action against it is an endorsement. We’re willing to trade our adoration and mass consumption of alcohol for any damages, injuries, or deaths that come from misuse and abuse. Those lives potentially and actually ruined are nothing more than the cost of doing business, so long as we can buy and enjoy as much booze as we can afford whenever we want.
This is the fate we’ve accepted for making our nation one fueled by alcohol.
Jeremy Jeffress is responsible for what he did Friday morning. Matt Bush is responsible for what he did that put him in prison. It’s time, however, to stop denying that society at large doesn’t have a part to play here.
It’s on all of us.