In today’s culture, professional athletes are viewed as some of the world’s greatest celebrities. People who were once just participants in sports turn into role models and media personalities as they further their careers within a sport and attain success. Many children and adults alike look to these athletes as people who represent achievement and strive to be just as they are. But at what point do we separate the athlete from the person? If an athlete conducts himself in a poor manner off the field, how do we as media consumers respond? Do the bad decisions an athlete does on or off the field keep us from cheering for them? Do we as consumers of the media really care about anything beyond our team winning? It is my belief that we as consumers of sports media need to do a better job at distinguishing whether an athlete is worth cheering for.
Take for example the former Pro Bowler Raven, Ray Rice. After the video surfaced of him striking his wife in an elevator, he quickly became the figurehead of domestic violence in the NFL. He was dropped from his team, kicked out of the league and, for all intensive purposes, blacklisted from the sport entirely. Many may look at the way his case was handled and say that the NFL got it right, that there is no room for people such as he in the league, and I would agree; he shouldn’t be in the league. My question for his case is how much did his play factor into the decision of his punishment? Ray was averaging just above two yards a carry the season where he was dropped. Had his numbers been much better, would he have received the same punishment? It is my belief that the punishment of an athlete is largely based on how successful they are and how much money they are making in their respective league.
This is not a crazy notion, as there are still many players active in the league today who have committed very similar acts or worse than that of Ray Rice, and have received punishment much more lenient than Ray was allotted. There are players such as Greg Hardy, Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant, whose track record in domestic violence proves very similar to Ray’s, yet are still welcomed and cheered for. There is Adrian Peterson, who was suspended for a year after brutally beating his child, yet was back on the field last season to push the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs. Would their punishment have been greater had they not been star athletes on the field?
This is not to say that the NFL is the only party guilty of favoring productive athletes. Just over a month ago, Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers was in an altercation where he punched a fellow staff member in the face. This is a case where Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, could step in and make a statement by punishing Blake severely. Instead of making a blanket statement for the entire league that assaulting an NBA employee will not be tolerated, Griffin was suspended only four games. This came as no surprise to me, as Blake has become a highlight reel athlete that garners a lot of attention and revenue for the NBA.
In the grand scheme of things, these examples are just a glimpse into the world of violence within sports. While there are plenty of athletes who abstain from violence outside of their respective sport, there seems to be a trend of violent acts carried out by those who participate in professional sports. My best guess is that it becomes hard to separate the violent profession from a peaceful life. These athletes are taught to be so competitive that the line between sport and life becomes blurred. It is my hope that through increased accountability by fans that we can make a statement to the athletes that regardless of talent, skill, ability or notoriety, their particular actions will come with fitting repercussions.