Professional Athletes and Involvement in Criminal Activity

The controversy over whether to allow or not to allow professional athletes to continue their career after being convicted with a criminal offence, has been sparked over the past few months following charges placed on players in the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Football League (NFL). In these cases, the athletes were suspended indefinitely from the league.But in other cases,such as the incident involving Michael Vick, who served prison time for running a dog-fighting operation, the athlete was allowed back in the league. This brings up two questions. First: should all athletes who take part in a criminal activity be treated equally? I argue yes. Professional athletes act as role models to millions of people and, no matter what the crime is, the league should not condone this behavior. All athletes who are charged with a criminal offence should be treated equally and removed from the league. If the charges are later dismissed, the athlete should be allowed back in the league.This brings up my second question: should professional athletes convicted with a criminal offence be allowed to continue their career? I argue no. In my opinion, being a professional athlete is a privilege, earned through hard work and dedication, and should be considered equal to all other types of employment when dealing with criminal activity. When athletes take part in criminal activity, they take advantage of that privilege and in doing so, give up that privilege. Just as a regular individual would lose their job, so should the professional athlete.

By looking at the differences in the punishments given to professional athletes, who have recently been charged with a criminal offence, you can see an obvious issue of fairness in the way the incidents are being punished. The fairness issue not only exists across leagues, but in individual leagues as well.

You would think that within a league such as the NHL or NFL, all players would be treated equally in all aspects. But when it comes to punishment, especially over cases involving criminal activity, the leagues seem to differ in the intensity of the punishment across players. Even when the incidents of interest are similar in nature. For example, two recent incidents in the NFL, both involving assault charges, resulted in the indefinite suspension of Ray Rice but only a placement on the Commissioner’s Exempt List for Adrian Peterson. Even though they were both charged with assault related crimes, only Rice was suspended indefinitely and cut from his running back position on the Baltimore Ravens. On top of that, being on the Commissioner’s Exempt List means Peterson will remain to be paid by the Minnesota Vikings even though he is not playing. To me, this is completely unfair. Both players took part in criminal activity and should be treated the same. By not suspending Peterson indefinitely, the NFL condones his behavior; the beating of his four-year old son. In my opinion, Peterson should face the same suspension as Rice.They are both role models in today’s society and the NFL should not condone any such behavior. If the NFL’s intention is to be a good role model, they should have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to criminal activity. A Similar issue can be seen in the NHL. An incident involving domestic abuse charges resulted in the indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov, a defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings. A second incident involving kidnapping and assault charges resulted in the arrest of Semyon Varlamov, goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche. But, after his release, Varlamov continued to play. Both were charged with felonies, so why the difference in punishment? Again there is an issue of fairness in the punishment. Both players took part in criminal activity and only one was given a punishment by the league.By not punishing Varlamov, the NHL condones his behavior. Again, both Voynov and Varlamov are role models in today’s society and the NHL should not condone any such behavior. If the NHL’s intention is to be a good role model, they should also have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to criminal activity. This brings me back to my first question: should all athletes who take part in a criminal activity be treated equally? Of course they should. Although the athletes mentioned above were only charged and not convicted of a crime, the leagues still need to treat all athletes equally when it comes to criminal activity. A universal zero tolerance policy should exist that removes all players involved in criminal activity from the league. This would create fairness among punishment to the players within and across leagues. If the charges are later dropped, the athlete should have the right to come back to the league. If convicted, the athlete should not be allowed to rejoin the league.

According to Forbes, the average annual salary of NBA players is $5.15 million, MLB players is $3.2 million, NHL players is $2.4 million and NFL players is $1.9 million. Compare that to the $51,371 median household income of the United states and you can easily see that professional athletes are making 37 to 101 times the amount of the median American. This brings me back to my second question: should professional athletes convicted with a criminal offence be allowed to continue their career? In my opinion, they should not. Professional athletes are privileged with an extremely high paying job. And, just like the median American, should be treated the same when it comes conviction in criminal activity. As we all know, most high-paying jobs require a clean criminal record in order to receive employment. So why should athletes who are convicted of criminal offence be allowed to receive millions? Athletes such as the Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback Michel Vick, Cleveland Brown’s wide receiver Donte Stallworth, and Anaheim Duck’s forward Danny Heatley, have all been convicted of criminal offences, yet, remain in the league. All three of the above athletes took advantage of the privileges of being a professional athlete. Vick was convicted of running a dog-fighting operation, Stallworth was convicted of DUI manslaughter and Heatley was convicted of vehicular homicide. But unlike the median American trying to get a job with a criminal record, all were still able to rejoin the league on high paying salaries. Professional athletes should not be treated any differently than the median american or any individual. When they committed these crimes, they should have been stripped of their privileges and disallowed to continue their career as a professional athlete. Just as Vick, Stallworth and Heatley should have been removed, all athletes who are convicted of a criminal offence should be treated the same as the median American and should also be disallowed to continue their professional career.

At this time, a zero tolerance policy does not exist and athletes who are convicted of criminal offence are allowed back in the league. Although I do  not agree with this, I believe it will always continue to be this way. The reason is simple, the leagues want money, and they will act in whatever way makes them the most money.

Author: Shaun Boswell

References:

Werder, E. (2007, December 11). Apologetic Vick get 23-month sentence on dogfighting charges. Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3148549

Nicholson, K. and Gurman, S. (2013, October 31). Seymon Varlamov arrest: girlfriend says Avs goaltender stomped on her. Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_24425582/semyon-varlamov-arrest-colorado-avalanche-goaltender-has-court

Bennett, D.(2009, June 16). Donte Stallworth Makes In DUI Manslaughter Case (UPDATE). Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/5292478/donte-stallworth-makes-plea-deal-in-dui-manslaughter-case-update

CBS Sports (2005, February 4). Danny Heatley avoids jail time. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/dany-heatley-avoids-jail-time-1.556751

Rossenthal, G. (2014, September 11). Ray Rice release by Raven’s, indefinitely suspended. Retrieved from http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000391538/article/ray-rice-released-by-ravens-indefinitely-suspended

SI Wire (2014, September 17) Vikings put Adrian Peterson on Commissioner’s Exempt List. Retrieved from http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/09/17/adrian-peterson-minnesota-vikings-exempt-commissioners-permission-list

Burke, M. (2012, July 12) Average Player Salaries In The Four Major American Sports Leagues. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/monteburke/2012/12/07/average-player-salaries-in-the-four-major-american-sports-leagues/

Unknown (2014, October 20) Kings defenseman Voynov suspended indefinitely. Retrieved from http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=735321

Noss A. (2013, September) HouseHold Income:2012. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr12-02.pdf

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