Sports, crime and immunity

I’ll admit it – what I know about sports can fit on the head of a pin and you’d still have room for War and Peace.

I like watching some sports (hockey comes to mind) in a very casual way, but I’ve never been a part of the community that forms around being a fan for a team. I understand it’s really a joyful thing for a lot of people, but it just never really spoke to me.

Today a few of my friends and I had a discussion about sports figures who have been accused of, or convicted of, criminal activity. And the question I keep coming back to is this: Does a championship or a win by a sports figure excuse his/her bad behavior?

The two figures mentioned in the discussion were Michael Vick, convicted of animal abuse in connection with his dogfighting rings, and Ben Roethlisberger, who has been on two separate occasions accused (but not convicted) of rape. Of course, Kobe Bryant was accused in a similar case a few years back.

Like I said, I get the love for the home team, I really do. But at what point as an individual – or a sports community – do people stop saying, “Yeah, but he’s a really great player,” and expect him to be fired, suspended or incarcerated? 

I know people in this country had very mixed and divided feelings about the OJ Simpson trial, but I remember hearing that even then – with several people passionately advocating for his freedom or pardon because of who he was and what he did.

If you’re not a sports fan, this could apply to any notable figure. I mean, Charlie Sheen? Roman Polanski? Where is that line drawn for you?