Who Decides Who Possesses the Moral Character to Work in Sports?

There’s been a considerable amount of rhetoric being flung around lately about who gets to have a job in sports. Damien Bowman recently wrote about the layoffs at ESPN.

[Bowman: On ESPN, Layoffs, and Life’s Lessons…]

That article helped ignite a small fire on Twitter about who should and shouldn’t have been part of the layoffs at ESPN. How could Britt McHenry not lose her job?

Brian in Twinsburg’s wish eventually came true as McHenry was indeed a casualty of the layoffs at ESPN, but McHenry’s poor judgment shouldn’t have been and wasn’t a fireable offense. This isn’t meant to bully Brian in Twinsburg as many share his opinion. That opinion being that only “nice” people should have jobs and, more specifically, jobs in a sports-related profession. I have news for everyone. We all have coworkers that we wouldn’t have a beer with after work. And who knows, maybe some of those coworkers think you are that not-so-nice person.

But the attitudes of some of ESPN’s current and former employees is just the tip of this jump-to-conclusions attitude that so many people have today. The environment that places this attitude on full display is the NFL Draft.

Going into the 2017 draft, Florida’s Caleb Brantley and Ohio State’s Gareon Conley made headlines in a way that they wish they hadn’t. Brantley was accused of assaulting a woman and Conley was accused of rape but neither has been charged. Oklahoma’s DeDe Westbrook and Joe Mixon each have had allegations stick against them and each was still drafted.

[Botica: Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Not for College Athletes Like Caleb Brantley]

Brenda Tracy, one of the leading advocates for victims of domestic violence and rape, believes that there is no room in sports for people like Brantley, Conley, Westbrook or Mixon.

When Tracy speaks about “setting the expectation,” I don’t believe her expectation is a reasonable one. I understand why she is the advocate she is and I don’t doubt her personal experience with rape. But when a person is as emotional about the topic as she is, is she the best person to be setting the expectation? This is an important question because her rhetoric suggests that she is unable to be impartial in matters of domestic violence and rape.

Should an athlete who has been accused of domestic violence or rape such as Brantley or Conley be held to the same standard as an athlete like Westbrook or Mixon? Accusations don’t equate to guilt. But even if an athlete has had charges in their past, should that ban them for life from playing professional sports? I say no.

The reason for my saying “no” is because it’s a slippery slope. Where is the line drawn? What is considered to be nice enough behavior to deserve a roster spot? Is an accusation against a person enough of a moral blemish to ban an athlete from playing? Tracy seems to think so. And if a person must be found guilty of a set of charges, which charges should be considered serious enough to ban an athlete from playing? That depends on the advocate leading the charge or their cause. Remember, everyone believes that their cause is the most important one out there.

How nice a person is should have no bearing on whether or not a person can work for ESPN. And the moral character of an athlete should have no bearing on whether or not an athlete is allowed to play sports. But this is the moral mountain that people are willing to live and die on. These advocates would be wise to be careful because the fall from that mountain is a long way down.


E-mail Seth at seth [dot] merenbloom [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Seth is the Managing Editor of Campus Pressbox.