Regardless of the consequences, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Williams showed poor judgment

The damage, it appears, will not cost him his freedom. The damage, for now, will not cost him playing time. Most important, the damage, this time, did not cost anyone a life.

For Mike Williams — drinker, driver — the primary damage appears to be to a reputation he has worked very hard to reconstruct.

And as costly as that may turn out to be, Williams needs to think about how much greater the price might have been.

Granted, Williams' blood-alcohol level when he was arrested at 2:48 a.m. Friday morning by a Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy was below the level of legal intoxication. Because of that, it's pretty hard to argue that the Bucs have any sort of moral imperative to keep him out of Sunday's game with the 49ers. Barring any new information that might come from his urinalysis, it's silly to suggest the NFL should take any action.

For now, legality is on Williams' side.

Good judgment? That's another discussion.

Williams, 23, did drink, and he did get behind the wheel of a car and, according to a sheriff's deputy, he weaved between lanes as he drove, he failed a field sobriety test, he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were glassy. You can argue the difference between blowing a 0.065 or a 0.08 (the level the state presumes impairment) all you want, but if a driver cannot control his vehicle, then the rest of us are at risk. You don't need a Breathalyzer to tell you that.

The thing is, Williams didn't have a Breathalyzer before he got behind the wheel. Like most people who drink, he had no idea what his blood alcohol level was. But he knew he had been drinking, and he should have called a cab. Maybe two cabs. Maybe every cab except the one Aqib Talib got into trouble in.

That's the bottom line here. No matter how much Williams had to drink, no one would be talking about it if the receiver had simply caught a ride. From a friend. From a taxi driver. From the team's designated driver program.

Here's one reason: Leonard Little.

Here's another: Donte Stallworth.

You know the names. Little was a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams who, back in 1998, left his 24th birthday party drunk. He ran a red light. He slammed into another car. A woman named Susan Gutweiler, a wife and mother, died.

Stallworth is a wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens who, back in 2009, was drunk when his car hit and killed a pedestrian in Miami Beach named Mario Reyes, a husband and father.

When he gets a bit of free time, perhaps Williams should call them both. Perhaps he should ask if they felt they were okay to drive, too. Perhaps he should ask if they wished they had called a cab, too.

Look, let's not fool ourselves here. Athletes drink, and athletes have very nice cars, and athletes have a very hard time accepting that the two don't mix. It's not a matter of being evil. It's a matter of being a lunkhead.

Frankly, there is a lot of that in our society. You probably know someone who has been arrested for suspicion of DUI. You probably think he's a pretty good guy. And yeah, he probably should have called a cab, too.

It has baffled me for a long time how professional sports leagues treat some crimes differently. They rail about performance enhancers, but they don't pay nearly enough attention to DUIs. Ask yourself this: Which would you rather have your kid accused of?

The shame of it is that Williams had done such a nice job of getting the tarnish off his name. He has been one of the best receivers — and not just among rookies — in the NFL. He has caught 40 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns. The notion of quarterback Josh Freeman and Williams growing together has become pleasant.

Not only that, but Williams is one of those approachable kids with a quick smile. I've never heard anyone suggest that Williams isn't likeable. With every catch, with every practice, you hear less and less about how he cheated on a test or how he quit his college team. (Williams maintains he did not quit, that when he told Syracuse coach Doug Marrone that he "was out of here,'' he was talking about a heated meeting, not the program.) These days, a lot of people are pulling for Williams.

And now there are more accusations, and now there are more charges, and now people are questioning his character all over again.

Can Williams prove himself again? Probably. Again, the blood-alcohol level was legal. Unless the urinalysis shows something illegal, this controversy won't define him.

That said, Williams needs to understand how dangerous drinking and driving can be. He needs to think about cost and consequences. He needs to make better decisions.

After all, the task of walking a straight line isn't just about doing it when the arresting officer tells you to.

Regardless of the consequences, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Williams showed poor judgment 11/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 20, 2010 4:08pm]

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