It seems as though every time you log onto the internet, there is another professional athlete in the news for violations of league rules, or the law.
Most recently, allegations have been brought against five MLB players who allegedly decided that their personal gains were more important than the honor of the sport. A sport that, over the last decade, has seen the public disavow an entire generation of athletes after it was rocked to the very core by a performance-enhancing drug scandal.
Legal issues among athletes are becoming more and more frequent as well, with players being involved in more and more serious offenses. Recently, however, those offenses have turned deadly. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend in a drunken argument, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and shot himself in front of team officials. Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent, went out drinking with teammate Jerry Brown, made the decision to get behind the wheel of his vehicle, and crashed. Brent sustained only minor injuries, but Brown was killed in the crash.
I could go on forever about the professional and legal indiscretions of professional athletes, and never make my way out of this decade. The question remains, how do we stop it?
Some offenses are minor violations of policy, and can easily be rectified with fines and suspensions. There are, however, offenses that require stiffer penalties than the ones currently in place.
PED’s are flat-out cheating for personal monetary gain. They provide athletes an unfair advantage, which results in better play than their peers. Performing in the top percentile at their respective position results in huge bonuses and multi-million dollar contracts, and any excuse that it was for the team is invalid, as it hurts the team when the illicit drug use is discovered.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. For years it was an offense that merited only a slap-on-the-wrist type punishment for professional athletes, often resulting in a fine, or in rare cases, a suspension. Even after a player was killed in a DUI accident, no major changes were made to DUI policy across sports. There is no excuse for a professional athlete to ever drive while intoxicated. These men are multi-millionaires, so cab fare is well within their means. In addition, most professional sports leagues provide a car service, contracted to local companies in every state, that will pick them up if they are intoxicated at no charge to them.
In an alarming trend, cases of assault, battery, sexual assaults, and domestic violence crimes are on the rise among professional athletes. Even more alarming, however, is the response of league officials across sports.
Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape and sexual assault three times in his career, but it was only after the third accusation that the NFL took any action. Roethlisberger was suspended for six games, which cost him nearly $2 million dollars, but after a private meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he was allowed to return to the field two games early and play in the Super Bowl. Kobe Bryant was accused of rape in 2003, and not even punished by the league. Domestic violence has become a serious problem that, more often than not, elicits no response from league officials.
The answer to stopping these crime is as simple as making the consequences so harsh that it will actually make players think before they act.
Any player who commits one of these offenses should immediately become subject to a zero-tolerance policy that allows for their immediate separation from the league, and forfeit of all pay and allowances in addition to the criminal charges brought against them.
The reason athletes continue to commit these crimes is because they have no concept of the consequences that regular people would be subject to if they committed similar offenses. In the real world, most companies would immediately terminate the employment of a person accused of these crimes, including a failed drug test. Athletes feel like they are above the law because they have been protected and coddled, because they were good at their respective sport, and because, as professionals, they have the financial ability to use powerful lawyers to bully prosecutors, judges, and yes, even victims, into dropping the charges filed against them.
These crimes have no place in society, and even less place in professional sports. Charles Barkley once famously said he was not a role model. Well, Sir Charles: like it or not, you are wrong.
Children look up to professional athletes because they represent the best of the best in the sports they love. When a child places that much importance in a person, that person is now a role model for that child, and good or bad, they will emulate them.
What message are we sending to children if we don’t punish these athletes for serious crimes? Simple, we are telling them that if you are talented enough, strong enough, and fast enough, to be given the opportunity of a lifetime and be paid ridiculous amounts of money to play a game, you can get away with anything.
We are telling them that doing whatever it takes to get that opportunity, including cheating, is acceptable.
In short, we are sending a dangerous, self-destructive, and self-repeating message of placation and favoritism toward athletes.