Unfortunately, Taurasi is not the first and will not be the last

Update: Taurasi’s statement

The diatribes have started regarding Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi’s DUI citation. Hand-wringing to follow. Team General  Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale spoke to local television station ABC15 last night after learning about the incident. That is certainly not how a GM with a superstar player on the roster wants to spend the evening, talking to the press about a player’s drunk driving and probably formulating a public relations strategy.

Meyers Drysdale told ABC15 that the team will not release an official public statement until more information is released. However, she does expect Taurasi to play in Sunday’s game versus the Sparks in Los Angeles. Taurasi is the Phoenix Mercury’s leading scorer, averaging 21 points a game and leads the league in 2009 All-Star balloting.

Historically, WNBA players who have received DUI citations, are suspended for two games (the same amount Taurasi received in 2007 for inappropriate conduct toward game officials). Detroit center Kara Braxton served a six-game suspension for a DUI plea at the beginning of the season because it was not her first time getting caught driving under the influence. Braxton, who had a troubled college career, is no stranger to receiving punishment for immature and irresponsible behavior. After her first DUI as a WNBA player in 2007, a fan blogged on WNBA.com about his feelings on the matter:

I am not terribly sympathetic towards Braxton. She’s old enough to know better, and she’s seen the effects drugs have had on her significant other, Odell Thurman (a former NFL player). I realize she’s never been known for her brains and she couldn’t even finish at a school that’s not academically rigorous, especially for athletes. Still, anyone ought to be able to see that a 3000 pound machine moving at high speed handled by a drunk on a crowded roadway is a dangerous thing. Braxton should count herself very fortunate that all she got was a short suspension from the W and a slap on the wrist from the law.

In October of 2007, Monarchs forward Rebekkah Brunson was arrested in Sacramento for a DUI.

“I am very embarrassed and ashamed, and I am well aware of the seriousness of the situation,” she said in a statement. “It’s not representative of how I live my life, and I recognize what a huge mistake this is. I am deeply sorry.”

She was 25-years-old at the time and had been with the Monarchs for four seasons. She was the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game. Taurasi is 27.

Compared to other pro leagues, the number of players in the WNBA who have been cited for DUIs is extremely low. Last month Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth began serving a 30-day jail sentence for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk in Florida, a punishment made possible by his cooperation with investigators and the wish of the victim’s family to move on with their lives.

According to Yahoo! Sports, during the 2008 season, at least 73 players on NFL rosters were arrested for DUIs. However, given what can happen when someone drinks and then operates a vehicle, from minor accidents to fatalities, Braxton and others are lucky when the only damage done is an arrest and game suspensions. Women’s basketball fans remember Tiffany Young, a member of Purdue’s 1999 championship team. She was killed by a drunk driver the summer after her team won the national title. On the coaching level, Texas Christian University coach Jeff Mittie was arrested in 2004 for suspicion of drunken driving. He was charged but not fired because his professional and personal conduct were deemed exemplary before his arrest, according to a statement released by the university.

Several NFL teams participate in a safe driver program to help cope with the number of players committing DUIs. Safe Ride Solutions is a nationwide professional driver service. It uses current and former law enforcement officials to drive athlete’s home in the player’s own vehicles. Even if a team does not use the service, individual players can. It might not be a bad idea for WNBA teams to use Safe Ride or participate in a similar program. The league does not need the negative publicity of players getting arrested for drunk driving.

Update: Taurasi’s statement

“As part of the Phoenix community and the Mercury it’s just something that’s embarrassing and unfortunate for my family and for our organization. We’ll have some other stuff to say later, but personally it’s just a bad situation and I’m gonna have to do some things to make it straight. “

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