Athletes and the Law

Crimes are committed everyday in the United States. Some are as minuscule as taking a bag of chips from a grocery store. Others are more serious. While they’re people like the rest of us, crimes committed by professional athletes are viewed under a much bigger microscope.

Athletes are in the media every single day, whether it be for performance on the court/field, or for things they are doing outside their respective sports. Some athletes are in the media for things they do to help people, while others appear in the news for crimes they have either committed or are accused of committing. Some never seem to learn their lesson due to the mindset that they are above the law.

Many athletes learn their lesson the first time, but others don’t. Just because an athlete, or anyone for that matter, is accused of a crime, doesn’t mean they’re guilty. Kobe Bryant, for example, was accused of raping a Colorado woman in 2004. The charges were dropped when the accuser refused to testify in court.

This brought a great deal of attention in Bryant’s direction and rightfully so. One of the league’s best players was accused of a heinous crime, but in the end, he wasn’t found guilty. This gave Bryant and the NBA a bad image for some time, but since that incident, we have not seen the Black Mamba in any legal trouble.

Another situation which is similar to Kobe Bryant’s is that of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was accused two separate times of sexually assaulting women. First he was accused in Washoe County, Nevada where he was partaking in a celebrity golf outing. There was no investigation due to lack of evidence.

Less than a year later Roethlisberger was accused once again, this time in Milledgeville, Georgia. The incident was said to take place in the women’s bathroom of the Capital City Nightclub. Once again he was not charged, this time because he couldn’t be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He escaped trouble from the law, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him six games, which later was reduced to four, for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. This, of course brought bad media attention to the NFL and the Steelers. The Steelers would eventually lose the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers that year.

In another instance where an athlete had a run in with the law, wide receiver Plaxico Burress was in the news for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh with a pistol inside of a New York City nightclub.  Two days after this occurred, Burress turned himself in to the police to face criminal possession of a handgun. He had an expired concealed carry license from Florida and no license in New York.

Burress posted bail of $100,000 on December 2 and reported to the New York Giants facility (Burress was on the Giants’ roster at the time). He would then find out that he would be suspended without pay for the remaining four games of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. The team also withheld his $1 million signing bonus, but the NFL Players Association demanded it to be given.

Police searched his home later that month and found a 9mm handgun, a rifle, and ammunition. On August 20, 2009 Burress agreed to a plea deal where he would have a sentence of two years in prison. There went two years of his career. He is currently back in the NFL with the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he is not the player he once was.

Michael Vick missed time from the NFL, but his crime was more heinous than what Burress did. In July of 2007, Vick along with three other men were charged by federal authorities with felony charges of operating and running an unlawful interstate dog fighting ring. Vick was charged with financing the operation, directly participating in dog fights and executions of the dogs.

Vick agreed to a plea bargain in August of 2007. While he was free on bail awaiting sentencing, he failed a drug test for marijuana. He was confined to his home, with electronic monitoring from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He turned himself in early in November and on December 10, he was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison.

Vick was guaranteed to not play in the NFL from December of ’07 until his sentence was up, and then it became a question of whether a team was willing to take a risk on the former number one overall pick. Not only was he not making any money while incarcerated, he was losing money from various things including bad investments, sponsors, and the Atlanta Falcons taking money from him. He was even allegedly supporting seven friends, costing him $30,000 a month.

He paid his dues to society and is now vying to win the starting quarterback job for the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that took the risk on him. While his debt to society has been paid in many people’s eyes, there are still dog lovers everywhere that want him out of the league.

The athletes previously mentioned have all seemed to learn from their mistakes. Then you have an athlete like Adam “Pacman” Jones who has yet to grasp the concept of staying out of trouble. The former number six overall selection in the 2005 draft has been plagued with off-field issues. In February of 2007, at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, Jones was involved in an incident at the Minxx strip club. Rap star, Nelly, was on stage throwing hundreds of ones in the air. Jones joined Nelly on stage and also began to throw large amounts of money in the air. The club promoter instructed his dancers to pick up the fallen money, and when one did, Jones was angered because she did not ask permission. This started a scuffle that quickly escalated.

Jones allegedly grabbed the dancer by the hair and threw her to the ground, hitting her head on the stage. A club security guard was there, but got into an altercation with Jones’ entourage. Jones allegedly threatened the security guard’s life. After that altercation ended, the club owner said a member of Jones’ entourage returned with a gun and shot into a crowd, damaging equipment and hitting three people. When Commissioner Goodell caught wind of this, he suspended Jones indefinitely, which would ultimately be the entire 2007 season. He plead no contest in the strip club case, and got a suspended prison sentence, one year probation, and 200 hours of community service.

In May of ’07 Jones was given a ticket for driving 79 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone. He was arrested again in 2011 for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at a Cincinnati bar. He received a $250 fine, 50 hours of community service and his probation was extended to a year. He seemed to be alright until recently.

On June 10 he was arrested once again for allegedly hitting a woman at a Reds game. The incident occurred after two women spotted Jones and asked for a picture. Jones refused and one woman threw a beer bottle at him while the other slapped him. He tweeted out he was arrested for protecting himself.

Athletes are going to continue to get in trouble with the law, because they will continue to think they are above it and above their employers. If the leagues do not have stiffer penalties for those who break the law, this problem will only escalate.

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I am a 2013 graduate of Clarion University with a bachelor's degree in communications and a concentration in journalism. I aspire to be great. I love sports and professional wrestling. Follow me on Twitter @KIngEdward15 and engage in sports talk with me.

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