Minnesota Vikings

Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson: Drawing the Line between Courts and Commissioners

English: Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August...

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

As professional sports leagues and the athletes they employ garner a higher public profile, there have been increasing demands, from media, lawmakers and the public that they be held to a higher standard of conduct.  Athletes have come under greater scrutiny, both on and off the playing surface, with each instance of misbehavior sparking a greater outcry than the last.  However, is there a public good served by publicly vilifying athletes for off-the-field or off-the-court indiscretions?

Moreover, do professional sports leagues, like the NFL, have the competence or right to impose punishment on players in response to public outcry, either before the player has had his day in a court of law, or after the courts have decided not to pursue criminal charges?

Two recent cases of note involve former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Ray Rice and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Rice was arrested earlier this year for allegedly punching his then fiancee unconscious at an Atlantic City casino.  A New Jersey grand jury indicted Rice on a charge of aggravated assault, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.  The charge was later dropped when Rice agreed to enter court-supervised counseling, and he eventually married his fiancée, the alleged victim in the case.  Despite the decision of the courts, the media outcry continued, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded by levying a two-game suspension against Rice, just days before a TMZ video of the assault was made public.

Furthermore, as the betting would suggest, the video stoked further outrage, putting Goodell in the uncomfortable position of exacting harsh punishment on a player for non-football related offenses that a court of law deemed not severe enough to bring to trial.  Goodell dropped the hammer on Rice, suspending him indefinitely, while the Ravens terminated his contract, likely ending his NFL career.

In Peterson’s case, the 2012 NFL MVP was recently suspended by the Vikings following his indictment by a Texas grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.  Peterson did not deny the allegations, explaining that he applied the same method of discipline on his son that had been applied to him as a boy. While it is understandable that the public is shocked by such actions, demands for the NFL to act where the courts have not place a burden on the NFL that it is simply not capable of carrying.  The NFL is a private enterprise that exists for the primary and legitimate purpose of making money.  It lacks the experience, competence, and mandate to exact justice fairly and in accordance with the law.

While fists have been shaken at the NFL’s perceived bumbling of the Rice case, a surprising modicum of outrage has been directed towards the New Jersey court that chose to drop the charges against Rice.

Adrian Peterson has received little to no benefit of doubt prior to getting his day in court.

NFL players have been arrested at a rate of approximately one per week in 2014, and we’ve witnessed no shortage of high-profile college football players who have faced charges that were conveniently made to disappear.  It’s a worrisome trend for every member of society, whether he or she is a football fan or not. However, such offenses are best addressed in court—where the accused player both answers to the law and is protected by it.  If the courts don’t punish a player for alleged offenses, the commissioner of the NFL cannot do it for them, no matter how vociferous the howls of media outrage become.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Revolutionary Paideia August 2010 Person of the Month: Brett Favre

I did not have a chance to present the Revolutionary Paideia August 2010 Person of the Month at the end of last month, but I have selected Brett Favre. The Revolutionary Paideia Person of the Month is given to a person, living or dead, who embodies the spirit of “unsettling, unnerving, and unhousing” that founded this blog. Without question, Brett Favre is worthy of this honor. He is a person who has the courage to do things his way—without any remorse or second thought. In a nation with too many fakes, Brett Favre is refreshingly the real thing.

Although people get angry with Brett for waiting until the last minute to decide whether or not he is going to play each season (after his initial retirement), I don’t have a problem with this at all. The man has a right to do this. It is obvious that Brett does not care too much for pre-season training, so he holds out on his decision to play until it is about over. I don’t see anything wrong with that. When you have been as successful as Brett, the players and coaches should not look for you to have to practice the entire pre-season in the first place. When you think about the fact that Brett is 245 years old (LOL!) and is still able to play like a very young man, you have to respect his great talent and toughness.

Brett does not allow negative criticism of him in the media to affect him in any way. It takes a strong person to not allow the great criticism he receives to affect him.  Brett understands that with great success comes great criticism. I look forward to him letting the negative criticism he has received motivate him to have yet another tremendous season.

Brett Favre, for your unwillingness to allow negative criticism of you to have no impact on your decision making and who you are, Revolutionary Paideia salutes you. It is a pleasure to endorse you and present you with the Revolutionary Paideia August 2010 Person of the Month.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison