By Randall Burr
Randall D. Burr, MD is a dermatologist in Meridian, Idaho. A graduate of Brigham Young University and the University of Utah School of Medicine, Burr lived in Utah when Steve Sarkisian played quarterback for BYU and has followed Sarkisian’s coaching career. Burr lost his brother to an accident involving a drunk driver nearly 30 years ago, and recently wrote an open letter to Sarkisian as he awaited the Washington football coach’s decision on team punishment for Huskies receivers Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams after alcohol-related offenses. Seferian-Jenkins pleaded guilty in July to drunken driving, after crashing his car when his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Williams paid a misdemeanor citation for being underage and driving under the influence in a separate incident.
Coach Steve Sarkisian:
I read with great interest the predicament that two of your players, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams, created for you, their teammates, the University of Washington and their fan base. By choosing to drink and drive, these two athletes have placed their football program, as well as potential NFL careers, at risk and have disappointed their entire community. Worse than this, their negligence placed other people in harm’s way and could have produced lethal consequences.
My brother, Matthew, was killed in 1984, at the age of 16, in the state of Utah by a drunk truck driver. This event altered my life and devastated everyone in my family. My father was following my brother and witnessed his death from about 150 feet away. Dad held my dying brother in his arms until he was gone. Sobbing, my father could only keep asking, “Why?”
The truck driver had spent the previous night gambling and drinking at a nearby Nevada casino, and at the time of the accident his blood-alcohol level was only one half of Seferian-Jenkins’. At the truck driver’s court sentencing, he was “remorseful,” not unlike Seferian-Jenkins and Williams.
Just two days earlier, my brother had competed in the high jump at the state track and field championships and placed second. He was an outstanding athlete who was involved in three sports and was loved by his teammates and classmates. Losing Matthew in this tragic way was a devastating blow to our small high school in Central Utah, and to our community as a whole.
Coach Sark, is it so important to win football games that you will pass up the opportunity to help these athletes understand that all choices have consequences and that we must all be accountable for our actions? Should these student-athletes not be held accountable for irresponsible behavior that could have taken an innocent life like my brother’s?
Thousands of prospective athletes, football fans, and the news media are watching you, Coach Sark. They await your decision, and many hope your punishments will be made with integrity and courage. A win-at-all-costs decision would send a loud and clear message to student-athletes and fans and could encourage other young people to make the wrong decision about driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or both. Please send a message that could help prevent others from suffering the permanent and painful loss that my family and I had to experience so many years ago.
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