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October 11, 2012 05:55 PM

The Power Behind Gertsema's Apology

sioux falls, sd

The problem of drinking and driving is gaining renewed attention in the aftermath of a very public apology from a high-profile South Dakotan.

Many of you are talking about Yankton School Superintendent Joe Gertsema's candid comments he made on KELOLAND News about his drunk driving arrest over the weekend.  Gertsema told us he went public hoping to help others. Gertsema says he's embarrassed and angry with himself over failing sobriety tests during a highway patrol checkpoint early Sunday morning near Vermillion. 

Someone who's in the public eye, like Gertsema, can help draw attention to the dangers of drinking and driving.  But people who help others dealing with alcohol issues say that message needs to spread beyond a single voice.  

"When you acknowledge that something has occurred and there's been a consequence as a result of your use of a substance, I think is a positive, [a] positive step for the person and for others to see that and to understand that it can affect anyone," Face It Together Sioux Falls Executive Director Mary Hitzemann said.

While critics might see Gertsema's actions as sending a mixed message to the community, and to students in particular, about drinking and driving, Hitzemann says his apology sends a clear message about the dangerous choice he made.

"Obviously, in a high-profile position, it does draw attention and there will obviously be lots of people with different and varying opinions. Hopefully they will support him in terms of dealing with this issue and whatever consequences come from it," Hitzemann said.

But Hitzemann says the impact of high-profile cases like this can be limited since we've seen nationally-known celebrities and sports figures go through the same thing without really impacting other people's behavior in a positive way.

"I think what will change the dialogue and the discussion is for the community to recognize it, recognize it as a factor in our community and start talking about it," Hitzemann said.

Hitzemann says Gertsema's arrest might get others to think about their own alcohol use and whether or not they need to seek help.

For more information about Face It Together, click here.

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