DWI Defense for Professional Athletes

Being arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is an embarrassing, expensive, potentially life-changing experience for anyone. If you're a professional athlete who has been arrested for or charged with DWI, it could literally cost you everything.

Some professional athletes earn more in one year than most people will earn during an entire lifetime of working. People frequently cite this when expressing a lack of sympathy for players. However, the length of a professional athletic career is much, much shorter than the length of other careers. An athlete has far fewer years during which he or she can play the sport professionally. A mistake made during those earning years could be one that the player is not able to recover from, in terms of career and earning power.

Relatively young people can make mistakes that alter their entire lives in just a matter of seconds, after making just one bad decision. Paired with the high-profile nature of professional athletics, it's very unlikely that the mistake will go unnoticed. By the morning after the arrest, the athlete's mugshot and arrest details are likely to be aired on national news and shared by millions on social media. Coaches, league officials, and companies offering endorsements will be watching closely, too. All because of one, split-second, bad decision.

Players Associations will be paying attention, too. In recent years, League officials have responded to high-profile arrests with attempts to change the collective bargaining agreements with Players Associations to create deterrents to alcohol and drug use among players. In March 2020, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) approved a new collective bargaining agreement that allows for the three-game suspension following an arrest for DUI/DWI.

Unique Legal Needs

A professional athlete being arrested for DWI creates a spiraling set of legal needs that do not exist for people in most other professions. Not only does the athlete need a lawyer to represent them in the criminal matter, they have other interests that must also be protected.

Many professional sports leagues have their own unions or associations, such as the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the NBA Players Association (NBPA), and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). These associations allow athletes to negotiate as part of collective bargaining agreements with owners. Collective bargaining agreements are contracts between the leagues and the teams that make up the leagues, and the Players Associations. Collective Bargaining Agreements dictate the terms in players contracts related to issues like free agency, minimum salary, and grounds for termination and terms of suspension. Collective bargaining agreements often include terms related to charges such as DWI and usage of or possession of illegal substances. When an athlete is arrested and charged with a crime like DWI, the athlete may also need legal representation to go before the Players Association for their sport.

For example, according to the NBPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, a player who is convicted of driving while intoxicated or a similar crime, will be required to submit to a mandatory evaluation by the medical director of the Anti-Drug Program, and the medical director may require the player to attend up to ten substance abuse counseling sessions.

MLBPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement provides that Players may be disciplined by the League for conduct that is “materially detrimental” or “materially prejudicial” to the best interests of Baseball. This conduct can include, but is not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law.

Athletes and Arrests

A criminal conviction can mean more than criminal sentencing for a professional athlete, it can mean temporary suspension from getting to play. Not only does that mean missing out on a chance to build a name and a following, but it also can easily—and quickly—mean losing valuable commercial endorsements.

To further complicate matters, there is widespread belief among professional athletes that law officers target them for charges like DWI in order to take them down a notch, or make an example of them. When Atlanta Braves pitcher Derek Lowe was pulled over and charged with DWI in 2011, the arresting officer claimed he pulled Lowe over after seeing him street racing. After pulling him over, the officer said he suspected that Lowe had been drinking. Lowe was charged with reckless driving and DWI after he refused to take a breathalyzer test. Lowe consistently maintained that he had been neither drinking nor racing. Lowe insisted that he had been targeted by an officer who had it in for pro athletes, a claim that has resonated with the experiences other athletes say they've had. Eventually, prosecutors dropped charges against Lowe, saying that authorities did not have enough evidence to convict Lowe.

The list of professional athletes who've been charged with DWI or DUI is long—too long to list comprehensively—and the names on it include some of the biggest stars in every sport. Seeing the names of all the athletes who've been arrested for drinking and driving does call into question if law enforcement officers are intentionally targeting famous athletes. Here are just a few of the athletes who've been arrested for DWI or DUI.

Mike Tyson—Boxing

Tiger Woods—Golf

Dennis Rodman—Basketball

Michael Phelps—Swimming

Jalen Rose—Basketball

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—Basketball

Lenny Dykstra—Baseball

Marshawn Lynch—Football

Scottie Pippen—Basketball

Nikolai Khabubulin—Hockey

Donte Stallworth—Football

Miguel Cabrera—Baseball

Carmelo Anthony—Basketball

Donovan McNabb—Football

Coco Crisp—Baseball

Tonya Harding—Figure Skating

Hines Ward—Football

Sonny Liston—Boxing

Mike Ditka—Football

Carl Lewis—Running

Jeff Garcia—Football

Sean Taylor—Football

Dwight Gooden—Baseball

Jayson Williams—Basketball

Darryl Strawberry—Baseball

Oksana Baiul—Figure Skating

Tony La Russa—Baseball

Bruce Smith—Football

Jason Kidd—Basketball

Sergei Fedorov—Hockey

Steve McNair—Football

Jim McMahon—Football

Rio Ferdinand—Soccer

The potential repercussions for athletes charged with DUI or DWI are many. When Josh Portis, then the backup quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, was arrested for DUI after celebrating a little too much on Cinco de Mayo, he got kicked off the team. Not only did Portis lose the bragging rights that come with being a pro football player, but he also lost the $480,000 annual salary the team was paying him. Portis insisted that he hadn't been drinking and he agreed to take a field sobriety test, though he declined to take a breathalyzer. At the police station, his BAC was tested and found to be over the legal limit, though not by much. Portis later admitted that he drank tequila earlier in the day. He was charged with misdemeanor DUI—a charge that cost him his entire career.

Many athletes are hesitant to use a ride-sharing app like Uber or Lyft after they've been drinking for fear that the driver might recognize them and share on social media that the athlete was intoxicated. In addition, some athletes want to keep the location of their home a secret. And, of course, many, just like everyone else, underestimate how much they've had to drink and the impact it's had on their body.

Different professional sports leagues have different approaches to helping players avoid drinking and driving. The National Football League, after recognizing that too many players were drinking and driving, started offering an affordable, 24-7 car service to players. Players can call and get picked up and taken anywhere they need. Perhaps that's something other leagues should consider, as well.

Such a service might have prevented Danny Duffy, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, from getting arrested after being found passed out in his Cadillac Escalade in a Burger King drive-thru at 8 p.m. Officers issued him a DUI citation on the spot, and there is no indication that Duffy was given a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test.

In Kansas, like many other states, a vehicle does not have to be moving for the driver to be charged with DUI. The driver needs only to be in control of the vehicle, so it wouldn't matter that Duffy's vehicle was parked in the drive-thru. Because Kansas allows people to be prosecuted for DUI based on offer testimony alone, it also doesn't matter that Duffy did not have evidence against him in the form of a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.

One thing working in Duffy's favor is that Major League Baseball, unlike other sports, does not aggressively punish athletes who are arrested for DUI or DWI. NBA players might be subjected to a two- or three-game suspension for a DUI conviction and, under the latest collective bargaining agreement, NFL players can receive a three-game suspension for DUI/DWI.

Athletes are no different from anyone else, aside from their enormous physical talents.  All of us are human and can be wrongfully accused for DWI after being stopped after drinking.  The stakes for a professional athlete are huge and made public across regular and social media. The consequences professional athletes can face after an arrest far exceed those faced by people in most other professions, and there are numerous other issues that an athlete's legal team needs to address. That's why our Board Certified DWI attorney Doug Murphy is here to help athletes, professionals, and anyone else, with their DWI defense.  Doug Murphy has the experience to walk people from any walk of life through the repercussions of a DWI arrest for whatever line of work they do. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.