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Henry Ruggs deadly decision changes countless lives forever

Scott Gulbransen
Henry Ruggs Raiders

A day after former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a 23-year old woman in a fiery car accident, a family is mourning the loss of a loved one and another family is preparing to deal with the loss of their breadwinner, father, and son to consequences of a selfish act that’s still hard to comprehend.

The least important element of the Henry Ruggs tragedy is football. No, football doesn’t matter at a time like this. As fans scurry to explore what their Raiders team will do to fill the gap created by the loss of Henry Ruggs, bigger life issues are center stage for families dealing with the senseless act.

As I put myself in my 22-year old mind, I too made dumb choices. Did I ever drive 100 mph (as Ruggs allegedly did as expressed to me by a law enforcement source) drunk down a neighborhood street? Of course not. The decision by Henry Ruggs, who is the father of a young child, to do what he did is unconscionable. Yes, we make dumb decisions sometimes. Henry Ruggs has zero excuses and now he’s responsible for the death of another human being and has altered the lives of countless people around him.

Could the NFL do more to avoid incidents like this?

Henry Ruggs III accident Raiders
Henry Ruggs’ Chevy Corvette he was driving at “a high rate of speed” in his deadly accident. Photo: Steve Marcus, AP

In the aftermath of yesterday’s news, I saw so many calls for the NFL to do more to help players “stay out of trouble.” While I am no fan of the league’s hypocritical nature, the NFL does make available a multitude of resources for young players to call for help if they are in need. That includes if they have had too much to drink and can’t drive.

If a player wants their privacy and doesn’t want the league to know, these privileged millionaires have the means to get home with one call via rideshare services, hired cars, or even a cab. No, this isn’t about the NFL or communities doing more to “help” wealthy athletes get home after a night of partying at their local Top Golf. This is about personal responsibility and a horrific, selfish, and deadly decision by Henry Ruggs.

The asinine view that Las Vegas was to blame

Still, others blamed the situation on the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. As if the Raiders were in Oakland, Henry Ruggs wouldn’t have made the same decision. Apparently, in the view of some, just being in Las Vegas makes you want to drink and drive and kill people.

That’s just ridiculous.

Nevada ranks 33rd in drunk driving fatalities nationwide. Yes, Las Vegas is known by the moniker “Sin City,” due to legalized gaming, but it’s simply untrue and baseless to allege it’s somehow part of the cause for Ruggs’ deadly decision. When pro athletes have committed similar crimes in New York, Kansas City, New Orleans, or Atlanta, we don’t hear the same allegations. This isn’t about Henry Ruggs getting caught up in Las Vegas — it’s about a dumb and deadly choice made by the young man.

Privileged athletes are human too

One of the lessons I hope Raider Nation and young people around the country take from this nightmare is that, in the end, these young men we heap adulation and fame on are just human beings. They might drive expensive cars, show you their 7500 square-foot mansion on Instagram, and make millions, but they’re not any better than any of you — nor are they immune from stupid actions. They’re prone to the same mistakes and failures we all are. To put them on a pedestal too high, for some almost in a religious fashion, is wrong and only perpetuates some sort of belief they are above all.

Today’s professional athletes have a privilege not available to most people throughout the course of their lives. That’s why what Henry Ruggs did is so unacceptable. Ruggs had the world at his fingers in just about any situation, including this one. He was a great athlete, there is no question. I was a fan of his talent. Yet, in the end, that talent was wasted and there is nothing more depressing than wasted potential.

If you take one thing away from this, it’s not that you shouldn’t respect and appreciate athletes for their skills and the enjoyment they bring to our lives. Yet, they’re not gods. They’re not free from sin and really bad choices. Look at them as talented humans but they’re not more important than the teacher, nurse, custodian, restaurant server, or truck driver in this world.

Consequences, healing and forgiveness

In a situation where you have an alleged crime like this committed, the first thought is — as it should be — for the victim and their family. While we don’t know the name of the 23-year old woman who lost her life early Tuesday morning, we know her family is dealing with the biggest of blows. Losing a loved one to a senseless crime has a long-lasting impact on a family. Not only will they have to deal with their daughter, sister, possibly mother, not being there, but the longer-term mental health issues will persist. My wife lost her sister at the age of 21 in an auto accident. It never goes away.

So we need to think more about the family of the victim and less about how this may impact the Raiders season. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s unspeakable pain and loss. Pray and think of them.

Also, we have to think about the family of Henry Ruggs. Ruggs has a young daughter and extended family who are now going to have to deal with him being away for what could be as many as 20 years. Ruggs will be judged by a jury of his peers if he goes to trial. He’ll get the penalty he deserves. Yet his family will also get a sentence they don’t deserve because of his wayward actions. Think and pray for them too.

I also hope that, after he pays his debt to the young woman’s family, and to society, that Ruggs can do something positive with his life. Even if he were found guilty of the charges that will be levied against him in a Las Vegas courtroom this morning, and received the maximum penalty of 20 years, Ruggs would face life after 40 as a felon. Pray that he finds a way to make up for the tremendous and never-ending pain he’s caused so many.

But for now, it’s about justice and the victim. I’m hoping the justice is swift and the victim’s family can find some sort of peace in it.

What a terrible day.