Acting like role models

Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 9:47 p.m.
Sports fans everywhere are wringing their hands over the harsh treatment handed out to NBA star Carmelo Anthony and his colleagues following the most recent big brawl at Madison Square Garden.
NBA players' union director Billy Hunter has stated that he feels the 15-game suspension handed out to Anthony is too harsh. ABC news commentator Jeremy Schaff, with great gravity to his voice, announced that in handing out game suspensions to such huge stars, NBA commissioner David Stern is letting it be known that "even the game's most dynamic stars are not above his law."
Meanwhile, the same old scenario of gratuitous violence unrelated to the game plays out over and over and no one is really surprised. Nobody honestly expects the actions taken by David Stern or any other sports governing body to diminish the frequency of assaults and brawls. Nobody should expect these sanctions to affect the behavior of celebrity athletes. They live in a very different world than ordinary citizens and the rules of that world don't resemble in any way those of the latter.
We should be straightforward and honest with ourselves; particularly in matters as grave as the consequences of physical violence. There are rules in civilized society that ban the intentional infliction of violence upon another person. They are called criminal laws and such violence is called "battery." When those rules are violated, the offender gets arrested, goes to jail, and faces several potentially very unpleasant consequences which are determined by a judge with no interest in their future celebrity potential. The experience is usually terrifying and humiliating.
There is also a thing called "politics," and it invades every aspect of our society, including the criminal justice system. Politics creates a separate and parallel universe wherein there are the special laws and powers, like David Stern. The consequences of those laws are not nearly as unpleasant as criminal laws.
Politics also create another set of rules which are unwritten but which are well understood by police, prosecutors, and celebrity athletes alike. Ordinary citizens should and must behave in a civil manner, even when passions flare, to avoid the unpleasant consequences of arrest and prosecution.
Collegiate and professional athletes, however, have a special unwritten license while on or around the field of play to commit almost any kind of violence upon another athlete, whether it be kicking them in the head, head butting in the chest, or punching in the face. They need not be the least bit concerned that the act has been captured on high definition video and that there were literally millions of live witnesses (including police officers present during the act).
They also need not worry that there is no reasonable argument that the act was a part of the game when it obviously occurred while play was not in progress. No one will even mention or suggest that these special athletes - these "role models" - should be subjected to the laws that govern the rest of society and act as a deterrent to such despicable behavior.
The exercise of unbridled discretion by law enforcement officials will see that these celebrities go home to their comfortable homes that night, secure in the knowledge that they are entitled to very special and very real privileges of politics.
Some have argued that these are emotionally charged situations and that violence is a natural and inevitable aspect of such physical sports. If an emotionally charged situation were a defense to the typical charge of battery in our criminal justice system, we could retire most prosecutors whose days are filled with bringing charges of domestic violence. In fact, almost all criminal cases involving physical violence arise out of situations where tempers flare and good judgment is abandoned.
Some may also argue that a 15-game suspension is a serious and costly penalty for a professional athlete. I suggest asking any defendant in a criminal battery case if he would accept a six-week vacation with plenty of money in the bank to tide him over, guaranteed return to employment after the suspension, and time to earn extra money working on endorsements during the break in lieu of facing criminal sanctions. I simply can't believe that Carmelo Anthony is losing sleep over that scenario.
As a society, we can decide that we are serious about deterring physical violence, particularly by those who should be role models for our youth, or we can persist in allowing politics to hold sway. Let the rest of the sports celebrities see Anthony handcuffed and hauled directly to jail like any other ordinary citizen and they may think twice before jumping into the next affray with fists flying.
Robert J. Warren lives in Gainesville.

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