Guilty until proven innocent; professional athletes breaking the law

Oscar PistoriusBy: Eric Dowdall

The relationship between professional athletes and the law has always been a tricky subject, something brought to light yet again in recent days by former NFLer Darren Sharper. Sharper was recently charged for felony rape, a serious crime that will likely end in him serving many years in prison.

Sharper is not the only athlete currently facing potential jail time, as former Olympian Oscar Pistorius is being charged with first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend. While Pistorius claims the death was unintentional, the evidence suggests otherwise, meaning Pistorius could be facing a long prison sentence as well.

Regardless of the results of these cases, it’s yet another black eye on the sporting world. While these athletes are certainly not the first to get into legal trouble, the sad reality is that they will definitely not be the last.

Does this mean that athletes are more prone to committing crimes than others? It’s difficult to tell, however their crimes are certainly more high profile and more public than traditional crimes among your average citizens. What is not difficult to tell though, is that when athletes commit crimes, especially serious crimes like rape or murder, it has a widespread impact on the world.

Professional athletes like Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, Aaron Hernandez and O.J Simpson have all had high-profile public court cases, which enthralled not only the sporting world, but mainstream media as well. The impact of these cases is often felt worldwide, affecting more than just those immediately involved in the crime itself. As perceived role models these cases can influence society greater than many other crimes, especially in terms of public opinion.

Even in cases where the athlete is declared innocent (or the charges are dropped) their reputation can be permanently damaged. Despite their prominent standing in society, athletes are not immune to the stigma attached to committing crimes. Look no further than Kobe Bryant or Dany Heatley as examples of this. Both Heatley and Bryant faced serious charges, yet when all was said and done they escaped largely unscathed from their ordeals in terms of legal accountability. However, in terms of their reputations, both took serious hits and have to live with others having a tarnished view of them.

Whether or not this is fair is debatable, it is simply a harsh reality that comes with being a professional athlete. With all the admiration and glamour that comes with being famous, it can be equally cruel in times of turmoil.

For the sake of Sharper and Pistorius however, it appears this will not be something they will need to worry about, as they are likely facing guilty convictions in their cases. Rather than joining the list of athletes who escaped criminal convictions, they will more than likely be joining the list of disgraced athletes who are facing, or have faced, jail time. Make way Hernandez and O.J.; it appears that you will have some new company in the coming months.

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