Immoral Athletes in Sports— Where Do We Draw the Line?

This past Friday, Jameis Winston signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the number one pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and on Saturday, Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in what was the most highly anticipated boxing match of the year. Keith Olbermann of ESPN refused to watch any of it.

Just over a week ago on his ESPN2 program “Olbermann,” the sports analyst passionately called for a boycott of both the Draft and the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on the grounds that watching these events sends a message of acquiescence about “where we as sports fans, where we as human beings draw the line about domestic violence in this country.”

In Olbermann’s opinion, these two athletes’ reprehensible actions serve as the perfect example of the ‘untouchable’ status we grant athletes in this country. By boycotting their events, Oblermann suggests, we can send a message that abusive behavior will not stand.

FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has a notorious history of misdemeanors, one of which, comically, involves stealing three pounds of crab legs from a supermarket. But much more seriously, he is currently the defendant in a civil suit filed against him by a fellow student on the grounds of sexual battery, assault and the intentional infliction of emotional distress—a far cry from crab legs.

The civil suit was taken up after FSU, now under federal investigation for how it handled the incident, cleared Winston in a code of conduct meeting and after local prosecutors chose not to press charges.

The sexual assault accusation, as well as the much debated failure on the part of the university, both reek like other collegiate sexual assault cases from years past. The difference? Winston has just become the most sought after rookie in the NFL and is poised to make millions of dollars -- all why we stand by and watch him do it.

The NFL’s past attempts to punish reprehensible player behavior, such as its two game suspension of Ray Rice, have been glaringly feeble. As Olbermann sees it, the last thing the League needs is “a potential, new disastrous scandal in 2015 after how NFL negligence. . . overshadowed 2014.”

The other half of Olbermann’s grievances are aimed at the fact that Floyd Mayweather, the celebrated boxer, has been convicted for domestic violence on five separate occasions, yet has only been sent to jail once, in 2010. He has never been penalized in his boxing career.

In boxing, more so than in almost any other sport, it is the viewers who vote for the product they want to see. The customers speak, and to this date we have demanded Mayweather. We buy his fights on TV, individual commissioners and recruiters pay to bring him to their cities and altogether we send the message that throwing punches outside the arena is a-ok as long as you can deliver a sensational knockout in the ring.

After showing a video clip in which Mayweather shamelessly evades every question about his history of domestic violence, Olbermann rhetorically asks, “You will support this excuse for a man?” His own response being, “I will not give Floyd Mayweather a dime.”

Both Jameis Winston and Floyd Mayweather are extreme instances in an American culture that reveres manliness and strength. However, this same culture turns a blind eye when the superstars it glorifies turn out to be unsavory people. And even worse, this attitude also manifests itself elsewhere in the world of sports.

Stephen A. Smith, who was scheduled to appear at Boston College last week, has been heavily criticized for placing part of the blame for instances of domestic violence on abused women.

On ESPN’s “First Take,” Smith has been recorded saying that he tells the women in his family, “Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions,” – those wrong actions being physical abuse. He later backtracked by qualifying, “Not that there’s real provocation.” He simply encourages his women to study “the elements of provocation.”

Smith received a one-week suspension from ESPN for his statements and shortly afterward aired a pre-taped apology in which he called his controversial commentary “the most egregious” error of his career.

Photo Courtesy of The Money Team/ Facebook.

Photo Courtesy of The Money Team/ Facebook

Yet, Smith’s week-long suspension is a more severe punishment than either Mayweather or Winston have received from the governing bodies of their respective sports, which begs the question: Was Smith’s punishment more severe because his crime was greater, or because he is more dispensable to us?

Mayweather has repeatedly abused women, yet many of us excitedly make bets on his fights and continue paying absurd sums of money to watch him on TV. Meanwhile, the world was in uproar over Smith’s controversial words, which while hugely troubling, are much less alarming than Mayweather’s truly egregious actions.

“You can complain and draw attention to these issues that affect Floyd Mayweather just like it affected Mike Tyson,” says Smith, but “they could never be who they are. . . if we didn’t allow it collectively to happen.”

We are collectively enabling people like Jameis Winston and Floyd Mayweather to get away with abuse, violence, and theft, largely without backlash. It is we, the viewers, who pay per view and essentially vote for Mayweather to continue harming women without consequence.

I can almost guarantee that American football fans will celebrate Winston all season long, tune into Sunday Night Football, and conveniently forget that the quarterback we watch on the field is actually a person—one with a pending sexual assault case at that.

And while Smith is guilty of disseminating an upsetting and common misconception about domestic violence, his words are only the most publicized and therefore the most highly scrutinized in an American culture that constantly makes excuses for abusers. Even he knows that “we are all a part of it.”

So I would like to join Keith Olbermann in saying that all of us, whether as Americans, enthusiastic sports fans, or plain-old human beings “have to draw a line.”

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