Before this past March, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 21, was simply known as a record breaking, University of Washington football star. But on March 9, he became front page news when he crashed his car while driving drunk in Seattle’s University District.
“I really don’t remember that night, like, that much,” Austin told me.
He blew a .18, more than double the legal limit, and ended up pleading guilty to a DUI. He spent one day in jail.
“I embarrassed myself, potentially could have hurt someone, killed someone. Could have killed myself. An embarrassment to my family, my friends, my university. It was really hard to shake. When it first happened, there were two or three weeks that I would sit in my apartment by myself and and just think about what I did. Having to go to jail, having to pay fines, having to go to court. Have my mom and myself pay for those. My mom works two, three jobs, and for me to be selfish and make a decision to put my life in danger, and having to put her through all that, kind of put everything in perspective. [It] really just showed me how selfish I was acting.”
I met Austin (Thursday) at Ballard High School, right before he spoke to students about his experience for the very first time.
“This was my idea, you know, this was not a court [order] or anything. I thought of doing something that I could give back to the community and hopefully change one person’s mind or decision not to drink and drive.”
Principal Keven Wynkoop prepped an auditorium of 500 students for a group of speakers that included a mother whose Ballard High School football playing son was killed in an alcohol related crash in 2010.
“This is not a pep assembly and this topic is not going to be something that will be a good time,” Principal Wynkoop said from the stage. “But it is very important.”
I asked Austin if he thinks he can get through to these teenagers.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t like hearing people tell me what to do,” Austin said. “But I can give them my personal experience. I’ve really gone through this. I felt that I almost was invincible, at one point, before this thing happened. When this thing happened, the DUI, it opened up my eyes. It was really sobering to know that life is really fragile and I can’t just do anything I want.”
Austin was only suspended from a single Husky game, and when I asked him if he’s worried that his DUI could affect his football career, he said he’s not thinking about that. He’s only focusing on the present.
“I could have died. I wouldn’t have been doing anything after that, could have been paralyzed. It kind of makes me shake just thinking about it. I was really lucky. I wasn’t wearing a seat belt, partially went through the windshield. By the grace of God it stopped. It could have affected my life for the worst.”
I asked Austin’s lawyer, Bill Kirk, if he thinks Austin got off easy because he’s such a prized player.
“While there may be privileges that come with being a high-profile athlete, also remember that this young man was publicly embarrassed in all the newspapers. Most people, when they get a DUI, other than friends and family, very few people are going to learn about it. Austin’s DUI was all over the front page of the newspaper. That’s a pretty heavy burden for anybody to bear especially, at that time, a 20-year-old kid.”
Ballard High School football player Fua Taase says he plays the same position as Austin.
“I knew a lot of players (who) did get DUI’s, but I didn’t think he was one of those guys. I thought he was more focused on the game and wouldn’t do anything like that.”
Fua’s teammate, Jack Deal, was happy to see Austin on the stage before him.
“Seeing someone like Austin come and speak is just really moving. He’s definitely, like, a role model figure, playing football, and I think it’s really good that someone like him can come and speak to us like this.”
Austin says he’d like to speak to more students in the future.
“I wish this never would have happened. I wish I never drank and drive. But the fact that it did happen, I think it’s nothing but a positive and it’s helped me grow as a person. Hopefully I can help these kids in here grow.”