The Vermont Cynic

The illegal duality in sports


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thletes, both professional and collegiate, are frequently criticized on a multitude of levels.

One common criticism of the pros, usually from non-fans, is  “they get paid too much.”

The reality is that in a free and open economy something gains worth only when others are willing to pay.

The reason that they receive such high salaries is because they have a unique set of skills.

Very few people could meet such intense athletic requirements.

The unique nature of sports leads to an awkward dual-edged sword in the  fluctuating power dynamic present in the leagues’ judicial systems.

The professional athlete in America has a job based on publicity, which means all of these players are walking, talking representations of their league even when they are not on the field, ice or court.

When athletes are glorified like this, minor infractions and misbehaviors off the field tend to  translate into major punishments from league officials in an attempt to save face and protect the league’s image.

Leagues often don’t even need a legal conviction to dish out penalties for alleged off-the-field crimes.

The NFL personal conduct policy reads: “The standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher.”

It is not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime.

More tellingly, it also lists the following as a possible reason for punishment: “Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL.”

It’s the subjective rhetoric that allows these governing bodies to do whatever is convenient for them.

In other ways, however, the power dynamic shifts to favor the players.

Because athletes are such high profile figures that are so often idolized, they can receive legal and academic preferential treatment.

Recently, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy received a light penalty from the NFL after he was arrested for domestic abuse.

After being put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List where he got paid while dealing with his legal issues, Hardy was suspended for just 10 games for the incident, but after an appeal, faced a mere four-game suspension this past season.

Also, because of their unique abilities and level of public admiration, athletes hold considerably more power to strike than most employee groups.

Because of this power, all leagues have collective bargaining agreements, which are agreements that players and leagues come to about financial distribution, scheduling and vacation time concerns and the investigative restrictions of punishing entities, among other things.

Recently, Dennis Wideman of the NHL’s Calgary Flames received a 20-game suspension for intentional contact with a referee.

During the investigation process, Wideman had to hand over his cell phone because the NHL’s bargaining agreements  mandates that the commissioner must be able to “consider any evidence relating to the incident.”

These text messages proved to be crucial as Wideman condemned both the “stupid refs and stupid media.”

This example is in striking contrast to what we saw from Tom Brady, whose cell phone conveniently “broke” before he could turn it over for the NFL’s “deflategate” investigation, saving him from public scrutiny.

There are many layers to the legality surrounding sports, but in the end, it all comes down to the influence of the dollar.

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The illegal duality in sports