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Worshiping Felons


Another month, another athlete arrested. From Kobe Bryant to Pacman Jones to Michael Vick, the story of a sports star in legal trouble is becoming as common as guests crying on “Oprah.” This time the main character is O.J. Simpson. Again.

The Juice, as I’m sure you’ve heard, has been charged with 10 felonies, including kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, in the armed robbery of sports memorabilia collectors in a Las Vegas casino hotel room.

If convicted, he could potentially spend the rest of his life in prison.

Where he should already be.

If he gets off—again—a reality television show could soon follow.

O.J. is news now, but I’d bet an arm that by the time you read this, there will be another athlete making headlines for the predictable driving while intoxicated or—the even more predictable—sexual assault charge. Many sports figures, it seems, simply cannot cope with living in the real world. I ask you sincerely, does this surprise you?

They’re athletes—glorified and over-paid thugs who society is always fast to forgive. When they’re in trouble, we want to see them get out of it—so long as they shoot the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball or run really fast. And when they are let off the legal hook—which happens way too often, it would seem—we let them back into mainstream culture without any
real protest.

Football players in particular seem to have a difficult time adjusting to a law-abiding society. In a 2001 article about pro football players, CNN stated, “By one account, 21 percent of players are in trouble with the law for offenses ranging from disorderly conduct to murder.”

Murder?! Let’s back up to 2001. Both Ray Lewis of Baltimore and Carolina’s Rae Carruth were involved in murder trials. That certainly makes Vick’s recent dog-fighting charge or Pacman’s strip club problems seem pretty derisory in comparison. And lest we forget that Lewis essentially dodged his charges and again is considered one of the league’s top players.

The NFL has been proactive in shedding its image problems through an extremely tough disciplinary policy that’s
suspended numerous players for all or parts of this season.

But that won’t fix the problem until society is ready to punish these players, too.

Author Jeff Benedict states, “What distinguishes these guys from everybody else isn’t the amount of the crimes or the severity of their crimes, it’s the fact that they are looked at, for good or for bad, as heroes by a lot of youth in this country, particularly boys. And I think that’s really the problem here.”

I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Benedict.

Two years ago, a team of academics convened in Scotland to discuss the cult of celebrity, including sports stars.

They were further studying the affects of an epidemic termed celebrity-worship syndrome. These academics concluded that we are seeking to alleviate our boredom by living vicariously through celebrity accomplishments.

In the end, we love them so much, it doesn’t really matter what they do off the field.

Even if he’s acquitted of these latest charges, O.J. may not be the recipient of public kindness—but he did, after all, already get away with murder.

And, I bet you considered buying his book If I did It. At least that money won’t line his pockets.

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