Sunday, July 15, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Austin Seferian-Jenkins' saga should make you sad, not angry

TAMPA — Everything about this story is bad. Let's start there.

Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was driving around at 4 in the morning, just a few hours before he was supposed to report for work at One Buc Place. That's bad.

The Florida Highway Patrol says he was driving between 75 and 80 mph in a 50 mph zone, dangerously weaving and cutting off a trooper. That, too, is bad.

The arrest report says he showed all the signs of someone who had been drinking: glassy eyes, slurred speech, trouble balancing, agitation. And that's the worst part. He is lucky he didn't kill someone. He's lucky he didn't kill or injure himself. He deserves whatever punishment the law sees fit.

But it's too bad the Bucs have decided to part ways with Seferian-Jenkins.

He should have been met with open arms, not a turned back. He should have been embraced, not condemned. Instead of kicking him out the door, Tampa Bay — the Bucs, their fans and the entire community — should be doing what it can to help him, including the first step of letting him know that he has support.

I'm not blind to the position Seferian-Jenkins put the Bucs in. Roster spots are precious. This is still big business, and sometimes NFL teams are forced to make decisions based on business. Because of his actions, Seferian-Jenkins has proven to be an unreliable employee, and unreliable employees are bad for business. Maybe the Bucs have tried to help Seferian-Jenkins behind the scenes, and maybe he wasn't interested.

As far as the fans, the easy take is to want him out of here — to call him a bum, a bad seed, a troublemaker. It's easy to say enough is enough. It's easy to say good riddance to the kid.

I say kid. He's 23 years old. He's certainly old enough to know better, especially because this isn't his first time down this troubling road. He pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2013 while he was in college at the University of Washington.

But he clearly has some growing up to do. It also seems clear that he has a problem.

How serious is the problem? Only Seferian-Jenkins can answer that question. But I do know that no problem is ever solved by throwing someone out on the street in a huff. Instead of all of us getting mad at Seferian-Jenkins, maybe we should be feeling sad.

That's not meant to accept drunken driving or to gloss over it or to suggest that it is no big deal. It's a very big deal. Lives have been lost and many more have been ruined because someone got behind the wheel of a car while drunk. Thank goodness that did not happen in this case.

But we're talking about a person who appears to be having a tough go of it and needs help. He's fortunate that being arrested and losing his job was the worst thing that happened. It's not too late for him to get help, to turn his life around, to become the person he needs to be.

And I'm not talking about football. Forget football for a moment. Forget about trying to make him an All-Pro tight end. Frankly, we shouldn't care about the next time he puts on a uniform.

This is about fixing a young man's broken life.

There already had been signs that Seferian-Jenkins was struggling. He was kicked out of a summer workout by coach Dirk Koetter. His whole offseason just felt, well, off. Even as he smiled and said all the right things, something just didn't seem right. Looking back, and knowing what happened early Friday, you can't help but wonder if something has been going on with Seferian-Jenkins for a while now.

All we see is a young football player making a ton of money, playing a game for a living, and we assume that he lives in a perfect world. What could possibly be wrong with his life? What's his problem?

But until you walk in another person's shoes, you really can't know what skeletons live in their closets and what demons live in their heads. All we know of Seferian-Jenkins is what we watch for three hours on Sunday afternoons.

His family, his relationships, his internal feelings? We don't have the first darned clue.

We know where he ended up early Friday — in Tampa's Orient Road Jail. But we have no idea how he got there. It's a trip that started well before Friday morning.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins' journey is just getting started. His life is at a crossroads. He could someday end up a wonderful success story, an example of someone who learned from mistakes to become a productive citizen.

Or he could end up another sad case of someone who crawled into a bottle, went down the wrong path and never returned.

Which way he goes depends on what happens next.

Everybody has a job to do here. The Florida Highway Patrol did its job. The courts will do theirs. The NFL, too. The Bucs ultimately decided their job was to part ways with Seferian-Jenkins. That's unfortunate. I wish they could have found another way. Hopefully, counselors will do their job with Seferian-Jenkins, who can do his job by accepting help.

Our job? To show mercy, to choose forgiveness and compassion over disapproval and ill will.

If Seferian-Jenkins is going to make a comeback, he will need help. He won't be able to do it alone.

I think that deep down Seferian-Jenkins is a good kid. He just needs a hand.

That's where we come in.

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