Friday, August 21, 2009
Doing the Crime and the Time
Lately there have been countless discussions taking place around water coolers, online message boards, and in back & forth tweets on Twitter regarding the topic of crime and punishment. Fyodor Dostoyevsky would be so proud. Professional athletes being arrested for various infractions is no new thing, but lately the profile of the players has been especially high, and despite the top notch lawyers they've hired, repercussions are actually being paid. In cases where the legal system did not hand down a stiff penalty, league commissioners have stepped in to lay down the law in a heavier manner. The message stated has been clear. Professional sports leagues are extremely image conscious, quite PR savvy, and the image they wish to project is a relatively wholesome one. We're not supposed to think of steroids or recreational drug use or gunplay in clubs between posses or drunk driving or any other types of reckless, illegal behavior when we see the NFL, NBA, or MLB logos. We're supposed to look at admiration towards superior athletes and all around class guys who at worst may have to deal with some paternity suits in the offseason. Perhaps it was OJ Simpson who got this ball rolling. He famously escaped criminal punishment, at least initially, but it seems as if he was the straw that broke the system's back. After that, preferential treatment for celebrity athletes went out the window, particularly when it came to criminal activity at the more serious end of the spectrum. No doubt ballplayers still get away with speeding through red lights in order to get prime parking in a handicap spot all the time. But if they think they can walk around acting like Billy the Kid or Tony Montana and not end up paying significantly for the damage left in their wake, they would be well advised to think again. Donte Stallworth somehow got away with only having to spend 24 days in jail after killing someone in a drunken hit & run accident. Much public outrage was expressed about this, but that outrage didn't add a single minute to his sentence. The fact that he spent less than a month in prison for killing a man says more about the quirks of our justice system than the fraternal twin powers of money and celebrity. Had Stallworth been a construction worker instead of a NFL player he may have received the same sentence. Then again, had he been a construction worker he might have been able to go right back to his job after leaving jail. But since he works for the NFL, which we've been repeatedly told is a privelege not a right, Stallworth finds himself indefinitely suspended. He may never again play football for an extravagant salary and has no one to blame for this but himself. Michael Vick had to spend a couple years in prison for his crimes, but now that he has paid for them he is being allowed to put pads on once more for a NFL team. In the revolving door between the NFL and prison, just as Vick re-enters the league Plaxico Burress exits stage right to the penitentiary. Carrying a loaded unlicensed weapon into a New York nightclub simply is not a good idea. Taking a self-inflicted bullet that night probably was painless when compared to the 2-year prison sentence he's about to start serving. There's a decent chance that he too will never play in the NFL again. Burress will just have to use the memory of his Super Bowl winning touchdown reception to sustain him on lonely nights. Is there a lesson to be learned from all this? Nothing that isn't so blatant it shouldn't need to be taught in the first place. If you somehow are talented and/or lucky enough to end up with everything you ever dreamed of, stay asleep and drag that dream out for as long as possible. There's nothing waiting for a man in prison but restless nights. So if you're a well paid professional athlete considering illegal activity, I recommend turning the other away and departing from that scene quicker than Usain Bolt.
- By Roy L. Pickering Jr. (author of Patches of Grey)