OP-ED: Athletes Behaving Badly

by Rene A. Henry
Rene A. Henry
Rene A. Henry

SEATTLE, Wash. -–  Several times a week there are media reports of  college and professional athletes being arrested for any of a wide range of offenses that include DUI, domestic violence, sexual assault, illegal use of drugs, rape, assault and battery, robbery, gun violence and even murder. 

And unless a local prosecutor takes action there is no consequence to the athlete who too often is told “You really should not have done that, and don’t do it again.”

Probably because of league and union rules and contracts, the commissioners of the professional conferences never seem to match the punishment with the crime unless it is taken out of their hands by the police.

This situation is not new.  What is troubling is that athletes are behaving badly and doing so more often.  Or maybe with the proliferation of television channels and social media the once kept-behind-closed-door incidents are now public.  I believe much of the blame must be assumed by colleges and universities whose coaches, athletic directors and presidents fully protect any athlete who can help their team win.

The way so many athletes are coddled and protected whenever they get in trouble in college it is no wonder some believe they are invincible and immune from any prosecution by the time they turn professional. 

Probably the worst abuse at the college level is the way the powers that be always seem to bury and dismiss any charges involving rape or sexual assault and treat the female victim as being guilty until she can prove herself innocent.  The U.S. Department of Education believes that only a small percent of the cases are officially reported. 

Greed, money and a win-at-all-cost attitude have replaced ethics, integrity and morality at too many of our major colleges and universities.  Some coaches will recruit any promising athlete in order to win and they end up with thugs.  An interesting survey would be to list all professional and college athletes who commit criminal or campus crimes and keep a scorecard of their coaches, their colleges and their conferences.  The NCAA has become almost powerless in setting rules and regulations and helpless when it comes to enforcement.

The college presidents who control the NCAA should have a requirement that any potential at risk athlete be given counseling and it be mandatory if the athlete is involved in any criminal, illegal or campus issue.  The athlete should be suspended from all sports activities until approval is given by the counselor.  Even stronger would be an understanding by the presidents than any athlete guilty of a felony charge would result in a five percent penalty against the coach’s salary.  In fact, clauses like this should be written into the new multimillion dollar contracts.

Chances are that with counseling a number of athletes could be turned around while in college and become good citizens as professionals.  I know a number of  coaches who have zero tolerance for any bad behavior.  When an athlete commits a crime regardless of his importance to a team, he is gone.  These coaches not only do not recruit questionable athletes, but when they believe they have a troubled athlete on their team they go out of their way to get personally involved and bring in help. 

All of this bad behavior is not new.  The powers that be no longer can pressure the media to keep incidents from the public.  Once there is even a rumor it is on Twitter or Facebook.  Some years ago an all-pro NFL receiver was exposing himself to young girls.  Instead of getting him counseling help, the team’s management made the criminal charges go away, kept the incidents private and continued to exploit his winning talents.  That is until he exposed himself to the young daughter of the local district attorney who made it a front-page, headline case. 

As the case was prepared for prosecution other incidents came to light including a number during his days as a college All-American.  It was probably cheaper for the university just to pressure the local police and media and make it all go away rather than bring in a counselor for help.  With counseling perhaps many of his victims could have been spared and the athlete and his career could have been saved.

The next time an athlete misbehaves, I would encourage the media to ask the coach and officials what was done to counsel the athlete and prevent the incident from happening.

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Rene A. Henry, born in Charleston, WV,  lives in Seattle. He has authored nine books and writes on a variety of subjects.  He spent five decades in sports at all levels and also 10 years in senior positions at colleges and universities.  Many of his articles are posted on his website at www.renehenry.com.

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