Commentary by Becca Ferenci
It has not been difficult, recently, to find examples of professional athletes getting in trouble with the law.
Turn on a sports show, read any newspaper or tune in to a radio station and it is likely that you will be bombarded with terrible stories of crimes committed by professional athletes. Crime in professional sports is in no way a new issue, but lately it seems there has been a frenzy of accusations and controversies. A prime example of this is the trial of Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius is a South African paraplegic runner who had both legs amputated when he was 11 months old. He quickly mastered using his prosthetic legs and grew up to run competitively. He was a successful competitor in multiple Paralympic Games and won multiple medals. His success in the games brought him fame and multiple sponsors. Because of this fame, he made major headlines around the world when he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius admitted to killing Steenkamp, but he claimed to have mistaken her for a possible intruder. The judge for his trial found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of culpable homicide. Culpable homicide is essentially when a person kills someone unintentionally due to negligence or recklessness.
University professor James Roberts, Ph.D., whose doctorate is in criminal justice, spoke with me on the matter from a legal standpoint. A major point he emphasized was the difference between the American legal system and the South African legal system in, where Pistorius’ trial was held. South Africa does not have jury trials like in the United States. Verdicts are determined by a judge and his or her advisors.
“A judge would definitely be more inclined to simply listen to the facts and apply it to the case. It is much more of a legal interpretation of wrongdoing,” said Roberts.
Roberts explained that a jury will more often take into account factors outside of the law.
The case of Pistorius is just one example of criminal activity by athletes in the news recently. One source of anger for people is the feeling that athletes are put above the law and receive special treatment because of their career and fame.
“I don’t think athletes are above the law. I think the criminal justice agencies, the ones who are prosecuting, don’t necessarily care about their statuses,” Roberts said. “I think where they’re getting different treatment is within the organization they work for.”
This highlights the major issue of whether or not convicted athletes will be allowed to compete again in their sport. With such widespread anger for these athletes, it will be interesting to see how their situations play out. Without a doubt, these recent circumstances are sure to force professional sports organizations to make major decisions. All eyes are on professional sports right now. Will these organizations take a stand?