May 20, 2012 - Drunk-driving isn't a stupid mistake; it's a stupid decision, one often made by otherwise intelligent people. We all know the potential risks and the real costs, so not much more needs to be said about that.
Jon Jones will have a penalty to pay, if as the Broome County, New York Sheriff's Department alleges, he made this same stupid decision in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The UFC light-heavyweight champion may face jail time and a fine.
All things considered, it could have been a lot worse. Thankfully, no one else was hurt, and he didn't suffer any injuries that will affect his career.
If in the end, it simply costs him a car (his Bentley was reportedly totaled), some sponsorship money, a fine and community service, he will have certainly dodged a bullet. But for a man who has been accused of artificially crafting a squeaky clean reputation, the damage goes beyond the tangible and the legal. He has dented his own good name.
In times of adversity, true character is revealed. You are among the many who thought him to be a "fraud"? You wanted to know about the "real" Jon Jones? Here you go.
There is no permanent hiding place from this. At some point, he will re-enter the public arena and talk about it, and maybe Jones and the army of skeptics can reach an understanding that he's parts revolutionary athlete and normal human, equally capable of temporary brilliance in a cage and like anyone else, momentary idiocy in real life.
Jones' reputation has been one that many felt was a little too carefully cultivated. This has always puzzled me. Why shouldn't a professional athlete always try to put his best foot forward? There were plenty who called him a fake, as though all of us reveal every bit of ourselves to the world at all times. That's why it came as no surprise that some were downright celebratory at the news of his arrest, so desperate to be right that his image was a sham that they were willing to cheer another person's failure.
Regardless of what Jones has said or done in the past, he has never claimed to be anything other than a human being, and any human is capable of having bad -- even terrible -- judgment from from time to time.
Jones is 24 years old. He may have accomplished a lot at a young age; he may be a father, but he is still a young man.
This does not excuse what he allegedly did. It is not a reason for it, either. It's just a realization that judgment is sometimes clouded by the seeming indestructibility of youth. It's no accident that according to government statistics, the highest percentage of drunk drivers are the ones from ages 21-24.
Once you start getting a little older and have some time behind you, you realize that for many, youth is a time spent doing stupid things and hoping to survive.
Luckily for him, he did. On the other hand, his life is about to get a lot less comfortable. He's going to have answer questions, he's going to get stares and the criticism? It's just getting started. Advertisers will most certainly not be pleased. His long-hoped-for deal with Nike? That's probably going to the back burner for the foreseeable future.
How will he handle all that?
It's always easy to smile and present yourself to the world when times are good. It's not so easy when the world is looking down their noses at you. Money can buy you a good lawyer, a PR team and a new Bentley, but it can't restore a reputation.
Addressing those issues are ultimately up to Jones.
So far, he's said little. His usually active Twitter account has been silent since early Friday evening except for a single Tweet reading "God is good." His Facebook page and website haven't been updated in days. The only words uttered by anyone connected to Jones have come from his management, simply confirming the arrest and offering their support.
The UFC is unlikely to penalize him. UFC president Dana White didn't discipline featherweight Ross Pearson following his own recent DUI charges.
"I'm a realist," White said at the time. "You can't expect all these people to be perfect. I understand they're role models. They're human beings. They're going to make mistakes. I'm one of those guys that believes we're all going to make mistakes. It's how you handle it after you make that mistake that tells you who you really are."
White will most certainly take the same approach with Jones. That means he's only going to face the Broome County courts, and the court of public opinion. In the former, he'll only need to have an understanding of the law. In the latter, he'll need the candid truth.
If you believe that Jones' reputation was a crock, then you should also believe the public backlash he's going to receive is just as important to him as his legal situation. His reputation is right now the only thing other than his car that was damaged by the incident. If you wanted a dent in the Jones' facade, you got one. If that is a cause for celebration for you, well, that just proves that you, too, are capable of stupid decisions. The rest of us will wait to see if the real Jon Jones steps up to show his true character.
For Jon Jones, A Stumbling Block, and a Chance to Show True Character