Over the years I made sure to encourage the students in my Sports Law classes to avoid, at all costs, becoming mere legal technicians. For a law student, being a legal geek may help you ace a law school exam, but it won’t make you a very effective lawyer. So, every now and then, when wrestling with a legal or policy issue, I tell my students to forget the precedent and the statutes, to put away the casebooks and the class notes and to simply ask, “What’s up with that?” Such a question sidesteps over-analysis and puts us in touch with our instincts, which is something every good lawyer needs to develop and rely upon.
Recently, the reactions to developments in the sports world have revealed a troubling trend. Des Hague, CEO of Centerplate, a sports catering company, was caught on an elevator camera repeatedly kicking a Doberman pup and hauling it up by its leash. The public outcry was swift: nearly 200,000 people signed an online petition calling for Hague to be fired. A few weeks later, he “resigned.”
Former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice was caught by an elevator camera knocking out his fiancée with a vicious left hook. After seeing the tape, there have been some who have declared that Rice should never player another game in the NFL.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended Rice for just two games following his arrest on assault charges, complaints came from various quarters that the punishment was too lenient. Then the tape capturing Rice’s punch inside that elevator was released and Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, claiming he was unaware of the brutality of Rice’s attack. When Goodell’s statement was contradicted by a law enforcement source with knowledge of the case, who stated that the elevator tape was previously sent to the NFL, there were more than few who called for Goodell to be fired.
Finally, there’s Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who was arrested on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child after beating his 4-year-old son with a switch. The reaction? You guessed it: Peterson, some say, should be banned from the NFL.
America has traditionally prided itself on being a society of second chances. Even our penal justice system trumpets the idealistic notion of “rehabilitation.” Giving a man who messed up or even broke the law a chance at redemption used to be a foundation stone of our nation. But apparently not in sports; not anymore. Mess up, and you’re outta here. Who cares if Rice (27) and Peterson (29) are still in their prime; tell them their careers are over. Goodell, at age 55, should still have a number of years behind the desk. So what? If he botched the Rice case, kick him out too!
The quick hook that we’re seeing in sports is disturbing. So much so that we all need to ask, What’s up with that? If we don’t, the ruthlessness that we have seen in sports may soon make its way into a workplace near you. When that happens, you and your friends better straighten up and fly right, because there will no longer be any mercy nor any margin for error.