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Sports and the law: fines, pardons and putzes ...


As I write this on the last day of the first decade of this tumultuous new millennium, it occurs to me that you can’t effectively be much of knowledgeable sports fan these days without immersing yourself in a lot more jurisprudence than you might have thought necessary or even advisable.

Crime and punishment now seems to intrusively dominate the sports arena to much the same degree as that other unwelcome curriculum, economics.

So on the same day that football legend Brett Favre gets fined $50,000 for presumably doing something naughty, the New York Jets get fined twice that much for supposedly doing something that may or my not be naughty, and Billy the Kid gets turned down for a pardon from the Governor of New Mexico (he gets included here because he has a 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter card that sanctions his inclusion). Meanwhile, Michael Vick has to juggle his mostly glowing press clippings from the current NFL season with the ravings of a knucklehead television commentator who opines that the Pro Bowl quarterback should have been executed for his role in the hideous dogfighting mess of several years ago.

We have a lawyer on retainer here at F+W Media, but I am pretty sure I can’t call him about help with all this.

Of all the legal maneuverings, I find Brett’s the most intriguing. I think the NFL did a fairly slick job of finessing this tawdry affair so that the final season of one of the greatest stars of the modern game wasn’t totally embarrassed and his league and legacy along with it.

What a nightmare it would have been from a public relations standpoint for a more reality-based yet less elegant solution to have played out, something where the league had to confront the unseemly fact that its marquee player may have acted like a ninth-grader.

I assume that what we’re witnessing now is a tolerable accommodation that doesn’t overwhelm fans with cognitive dissonance in this final week of the regular season when the NFL announcers and pundits will be largely falling all over themselves in gloriously encapsulating the final moments of Brett’s amazing career.

And what a relief for the New York Jets that there’s just enough plausible deniability floating around so that the accountability for their sideline shenanigans can go no higher than a forlorn strength and conditioning coach who had already been duly spanked and suspended for the rest of the season. If he actually gets the heave-ho at the end of the season or early in the spring, then maybe I’ll buy it that he was the sole participant in this arguably dangerous adolescent maneuver; if not, he’s probably got some rare job security.

The Billy the Kid thing just sorta made me chuckle, coming as it did at the same time rock star Jim Morrison got a pardon on a likely bogus obscenity charge in Florida stemming from a 1969 concert in Miami. That anybody was even pondering a pardon for The Kid struck me as amazing, given the acknowledged body count attributed to him that ranged from eight or nine to nearly two dozen, depending on your choice of historical documentation.

Besides, I saved most of my fervor for the Michael Vick business. Television political pundit Tucker Carlson offered his view that the death penalty would have been a more suitable punishment for Vick than the 18 months in federal prison and subsequent supervised probation.

Just goes to show you the enormous pressure that exists in modern media outlets to say the most outrageous thing that you can think of in order to be heard above the clamor.

I would never resort to anything like that, for instance perhaps suggesting that the canny Carlson might deserve to be sentenced to 18 months in solitary confinement for being a putz.

That would seemingly be cruel and unusual punishment and thus constitutionally insupportable, or at the very least a tad excessive given the offense. If we started sending people to prison simply on the basis of their being a putz, it could get mighty lonely out there.


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