One drink too many: when alcohol and sports clash

We’re all accustomed to images of championship teams making it rain champagne and Budweiser in the locker room following a World Series or Super Bowl victory.

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Toronto Blue Jays celebrate after capturing the American League East crown for the first time in 22 years.  September 26, 2015

But what’s the flip side of the coin when you mix sports and alcohol?

Michael Phelps is WITHOUT QUESTION, the greatest Olympian of all time.

But for a decade, one of America’s heroes, faced an opponent he couldn’t outswim: his personal battle with alcohol.

In 2004, Phelps was arrested for a DUI in Maryland, three months after competing at the Summer Olympics in Athens.

A decade later, it happened again. Phelps nearly killed himself speeding in the Fort McHenry Tunnel in our beloved hometown of Baltimore. After he was pulled over, Phelps blew a 0.14, well above the legal limit of 0.08.

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The “Baltimore Bullet’s” second mugshot in less than a decade. September 2014

In 2016, Phelps spoke with Today host, Matt Lauer, where he revealed his battle with alcohol left him wanting to die.

Luckily, Phelps turned his life around, remains sober and found happiness with his new wife Nicole, and their son Boomer.

Phelps’ teammate Ryan Lochte, has notoriously battled alcohol abuse alongside Michael for some time now.

During the Rio Olympics last August, Lochte and fellow American swimmers, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen, claimed they were held up at gunpoint at a gas station.

Surveillance footage later proved they trashed the gas station while intoxicated.

Lochte is currently suspended by USA Swimming through the end of June.

His fellow swimmers each received varying punishments, including being disinvited from the Team USA White House visit.

Thankfully, none of these gentleman have fatally succumbed to the dangers of alcohol, and we at Blue Ring Sports wish Lochte and his teammates the best in turning this experience into a motivating force for change in their lives.

Alcohol can, however, have fatal consequences for bright young athletes.

In 1998, six months to the day after he was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams, defensive end Leonard Little left his 24th birthday party, drunk.

On his way home, Little struck and killed 47 year old Susan Gutweiler.

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Susan Gutweiler’s gravesite

Making matters worse, instead of expressing remorse for his actions, Little reportedly told officers, “The bitch ran a yellow light and hit me, [and wrecked] my f—— $45,000 car!”

Instead of learning from this incident, Leonard Little, just like Phelps, followed his 1998 DUI with another in 2004.

This incident led to horrific flashbacks for Gutweiler’s son, who lost his mother when he was only 15.

Speaking to The Chicago Tribune in 2004, Michael Gutweiler said, “My mom did everything.” Gutweiler suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, and his mother was the only stabilizing force in his life; the one person who could get him to take his medication.

Imagine losing your mother at 15, suffering from a debilitating mental disorder without her for six years after, having her miss important moments in your life including prom, high school graduation and the day you go off to college, only to find the man responsible for her death, made the same stupid decision all over again.

In both cases, Leonard Little got off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

In April 2009, a bright young pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Nick Adenhart, threw the game of his young career: 7 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts over 6 innings against the rival Oakland Athletics.

Adenhart left the game to a standing ovation after being pulled by manager Mike Scioscia.

It was the last time Adenhart set foot on a baseball mound.

Shortly after pitching the game of his life, Adenhart, his 20 year old girlfriend Courtney Stewart, and their friends Jon Wilhite and Henry Pearson, were driving home when they were struck by a drunk driver in Fullerton, California.*

The driver of the vehicle that hit Adenhart and his friends, had a blood alcohol concentrate (BAC) nearly three times the legal limit. Stewart and Pearson were pronounced dead on the scene by first responders. Adenhart died that night at UC Irvine Medical Center, and Jon Wilhite barely survived after his head was nearly servered.

Nick Adenhart was 22 years old.

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Angels teammate, Jered Weaver, touching the tribute that graced the right field wall of Angel Stadium of Anaheim for the remainder of the 2009 season.

Whether it’s as harmless as doing the Macarena in your underwear, or lethal as killing a 47 year old mother, alcohol has consequences.

And yet, there is a culture amongst athletes that they are invincible to consequences. Drink and drive, pay a fine. Stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, eh’ pay a fine.

These incidents remain an injustice those like Nick Adenhart and Susan Gutweiler, who lost their lives, because someone decided their lives, and the lives of others wasn’t worth anything.

* Blue Ring Sports will not dignify the drunk driver by mentioning his name in this article out of respect for the memory of Nick Adenhart, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson.

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