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Balancing Punishments With Support Networks for Convicted Athletes

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Former New England Patriot, Aaron Hernandez, was convicted of 1st Degree Murder in April 2015

Criminal issues have certainly disgraced professional athletes with endless cases of murder, gun violence, domestic violence, drinking and driving, child endangerment, performance enhancing drugs, gambling, unauthorized videotaping, stolen crab legs, whatever the problem, there are daily scandals in the sports world.

The modern era of bad boys in sports dates back to 1994 when OJ Simpson may or may not have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole. He was acquitted, although he certainly endured a public execution and ended up in prison in 2008 anyway.

One problem in demonizing actions is by thinking something is new or shocking. However, the sports world has always been full of misappropriations. Athletes cheating or breaking the law is not new, or particularly shocking. It’s somewhat natural.

Athletes of All Ages Have Tried To Cheat the System

Performance enhancing drugs, for example, have been around a long time. They’ve only been highlighted more recently by rule changes regarding designer steroids. Still, doping has always been an issue. It was an issue going back to ancient Greeks using opium juice in the original Olympics and there are records in the 1940s of cyclists using amphetamines to help increase endurance. Across time, the supply has been different, not the culture.

The same can be said for gambling in sports. It is infrequently discussed enough to only be associated with Pete Rose or the 1919 Chicago Black Sox. These incidents were understandable in context of how they occurred and in context of history. From amateur to professional sports, gambling has been problematic in every era.

George Bechtel was banned from baseball in 1876 for conspiring to throw a game, and that was at a time when bookies circulated through the stands taking bets as if they were cotton candy vendors. As a 19-year-old semi-pro in 1907, future baseball hall of famer, Walter Johnson was purchased by Payette to pitch one game versus Caldwell with a heavy amount of betting. The original football golden boy and winner of the 1961 NFL MVP award, Paul Hornung, along with teammate Alex Karras, were suspended for betting on football. Denny McLain, the last pitcher to win 30 games to go with Cy Young awards in 1968 and 1969, was suspended in 1970 for gambling and quickly destroyed his baseball career on a path to prison.  

Players in the old days were not paid ridiculously high salaries as they are now. Baseball players were sometimes banned for requesting higher contracts prior to 1915. It took the formation of the Federal League in 1913 for player rights to be granted by American or National League owners. As the highest paid baseball player of his era, Ty Cobb made $20,000 in 1915, or roughly equivalent to just under $500,000 in 2015 dollars. The highest paid in 2015, Clayton Kershaw, makes over 60 times Ty Cobb’s adjusted-for-inflation salary.

It was assumed that players conspired with gamblers because they weren’t paid appropriately. As economics changed, players started to be paid more fairly and gambling became less of a problem overall, though the high salaries of modern players have resulted in high stakes gambling in many cases. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley have been disgraced by gambling. Golfer John Daly is infamously known for his huge gambling losses. As well, modern day soccer players have lost millions in a psychosocial culture of gambling.

Gambling and doping are somewhat taken for granted as part of sports culture, but more violent behaviors, like murder (Aaron Hernandez), armed robbery (Clifford Etienne), child abuse (Adrian Peterson), and domestic violence are subject to harsher criticism. Whatever the social ill, there are many professional athletes guilty of transgressions. A Wikipedia list of crimes committed by athletes is longer than any team roster, many with mafia-like crimes.

Athletes have a drive to be competitive, a tenacity and fighting spirit. They have a desire to win at all costs. And when players of rough sports, like football, are so willing to throw their bodies into other bodies, how does such reckless abandon keep contained? That must be difficult, particularly for players from poor backgrounds subjected to violence as youth and/or with little education. To top it off, violence would seem more likely when condoned by coaches, such as the New Orleans Saints offering incentives for injuring opposing players.

Sometimes, giving someone millions of dollars just opens the door for millions of problems. That is the primary difference between the ages. In either case, it is not up to the athlete to behave. The athlete’s job is to compete at high levels. It is up to society to set the standards and provide the support, or lack of support, for player’s paychecks.

Leveling the Field

The big question becomes what penalties are appropriate? Should life be so strict as locking the door and throwing away the key?

No endorsement should ever be given to Ray Rice’s elevator incident and I personally would support a permanent ban in his, and similar cases. However, it’s also important to consider the element within human nature. Giving people a second chance provides hope.

Nobody is perfect. People know from the start that they will make mistakes. In fact, doctors in training necessarily need to make mistakes to learn. The differentiating factor separating a doctor’s success from failure is “knowledge of the repercussions and instill a character that doesn’t allow them to be the least paralyzed by the fear of the responsibility placed on their hands.” This means exactly that we must accept faults without being tied down by them.

There is much encouragement in learning and growing from mistakes and not being permanently locked away from another chance. The idea of the possibility of living only in fear and without hope is enough to make people more lenient toward criminals.

That much is evident with general prison populations. Most of the millions of prisoners in the United States will eventually be released and return to the public. With no hope or support, there absolutely will be a high recidivism rate. Oregon is admittedly progressive compared to many states, but still a heavy majority of Oregonians support rehabilitation efforts and services to prepare prisoners for reentry through job training, mental health, drug treatment and education. There is no reason to expect convicted athletes also wouldn’t benefit society better by having a support network. Some may say that due to their celebrity status and exceptional situations they would have even more need for certain services.

It is worth noting, however, that Oregonians also support close supervision of ex-prisoners. Basically, that means giving second chances, but with a short leash. My argument for not endorsing criminal activities while suggesting standards for athletes be in line with other people in society is similar. That is why Aaron Hernandez will serve life in prison. That is why Ray Rice shouldn’t get the golden path he had prior to his knocking out his wife. On the flipside, paying Sean Payton the richest coaching contract after a year long “vacation” is not congruent to what would happen in the rest of society.

When we let individuals off easy, we are not setting examples for the rest of society. Still, a second chance is crucial for the hope of future society. These are not individual problems because there are too many individuals committing the crimes. These are societal problems. Society needs room to breathe and recover from these problems.

Building Hope and Enforcing Accountability

Giving hope and holding people accountable can happen together. There are other avenues for Ray Rice beyond the football field. As a leader, or role model, maybe coach, Rice can still accomplish many great things. That’s up to him to show the strength to rebound from a reasonable punishment. Removing him from the game is part of the price paid for his actions. Holding him accountable makes the system fair and sends the message that assaulting other people is not okay.  

Society’s expectations for celebrities are pretty strict considering how many average people have problems staying out of trouble. This makes it problematic to expect more from athletes, yet we often judge them differently. What we need is the balance of toeing the line between knowing what is right, understanding consequences and feeling hopeful that we can succeed in the world despite lamentable actions.

Volunteer programs are one way that people can atone for mistakes. Even where people may come from poor backgrounds, the glamour and the spotlight may be too overwhelming. It is always significant to get people back in touch with more unfortunate situations to realize how bad things can be and how to correct problems to achieve better outcomes. That experience is too valuable to deprive from an individual and society.

Fans are the ones that have the ultimate power to hold athletes accountable. Fans support them with tickets, cable subscriptions and buying from advertisers. Society, in general, continues to offer massive financial support to pro sports leagues, even where they bash poor behaviors. In the end, people seem to still need entertainment in times of crisis. Modern life is full of endless war and strife, resulting in refugees in Hungary, Greece and Syria and elsewhere. At the same time, the Washington Post estimated that six million civilians have been killed by US interventions since WWII. We continue to support this carnage with tax dollars, so in some ways fans continuing to pay athletes for violence and cheating makes sense.

From my perspective, such social support shouldn’t make sense. While I am all for rehabilitation programs and giving outlets for the disgraced to continue to be successful, that doesn’t equal paying to support a destructive culture. There is enough entertainment to go around that I can spend my money elsewhere, so I focus on the betterment of society rather than being entertained by how bad boys can be. As long as fans give any attention, there is no room to complain. Athletes may be bad, but then we all are.

Meanwhile, September was the first month in six years that no NFL player was arrested. So, we’re getting somewhere, right?

Daniel is a freelance writer and observationist, former English teacher and failed comedian. His interests include mindfulness, poverty, the environment and support for disenfranchised people worldwide. He is an ardent champion of terrestrial, freeform radio and a DJ at Radio Boise.

1 Comment
Martin Clark Martin Clark says:

boo fucking hoo these sports figures are admired and then when they fall from grace have a hard time dealing with reality…. Oh welll… welcome to the real world.

Business

Fearless: How One Financial Expert Faced Her Fear Of Public Speaking

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Pamela Yellen and Richard Branson

When you are on a collision course to face your fears in order to achieve your future career goals, what will you do? Do you run and hide, drag your feet and hope things will blow over, or will you dawn your Super Woman cape and address the elephant in the room?

Today’s woman wears many hats and it should come as no surprise that with all of the role-changes, fear and anxiety can be a bit challenging for some. Add to that a career path that is rooted in public speaking and you could have a recipe for disaster as the challenges faced with respect to public speaking are high. Communication, in general, tends to be challenging for women on both a personal and professional level for various reasons, but why do we seem to struggle a bit more with public speaking?

Sweaty palms, a racing heart, or feeling like a frog is lodged in your throat. Those psychosomatic symptoms can be a real bummer and for many women, they never achieve their full potential due to their overwhelming fear of public speaking. To shed light on this common problem, we turned to financial expert and two-time New York Times bestseller, Pamela Yellen, who knows all too well about overcoming the fear of public speaking.

We wanted to know how someone who had garnered enough support to raise $25,000 in funds for the American Cancer Society and was fearless enough to dawn a gold-sequined leotard while riding on an elephant struggled with fear and anxiety that almost halted her career pursuits. “You can be a risk taker and still be afraid to get up in front of more than a couple of people.”

Despite the risks Pamela has taken in her life, it wasn’t until she decided to go in a different direction and develop a more professional career as a financial services consultant and public speaker that she was prompted to deal with her “paralyzing stage fright.” Once she conquered her fears, she went on to help others face their fears relating to financial security and grace us with Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future and The Bank On Yourself Revolution: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future.

To help quell her fears and set her on the path to success, Pamela got busy and ushered in the help of a mentor. When asked if she felt like the mentoring approach and feedback would have set her on a different path had her mentor been a female, she chuckled, “I guess we’ll never know, but I will tell you that I was a bit intimidated by him and he was a very strong, demanding, no-nonsense kind of guy. I think maybe I needed that [approach] at that time.” She also acknowledges her abilities to develop and lead people to reach their potential, developing strategies to avoid foreseeable obstacles, and her natural curiosity to challenge conventional wisdom as key strengths that have contributed to her success.

So what do you do when all eyes are on you and it seems as if the world is judging you? According to Pamela, “You can choose are you gonna sit there and stand there and worry about what they’re gonna think about you or are you going to focus on the fact that you have value to give them.”

Having a clear focus is important when taking on any task, especially something as intimidating as public speaking.Once you choose to change your focus to the value that you bring to your client or an audience, you can begin to approach public speaking differently. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you will never have a nervous moment again. Pamela stated she “still gets plagued by a lack of confidence every now and then” but despite a few hang-ups, she has still persisted and has been quite successful in pursuing her goals.

Speaking of womanhood, we would be remiss not to address the obstacles faced by women in addition to the generalized fear many have regarding public speaking. How does one persist when it seems like odds are stacked against women? Being a woman has made her somewhat of an easier target to negative criticism and has been a cause of hesitancy along her journey.

Given many of the patriarchal norms and stereotypes assigned to women that continue to shape much of society, it’s easy to see how despite all of her success, remnants of fear and anxiety can still rear their ugly head. There is little doubt that being a woman presents its own set of problems when speaking out and sometimes against the status quo.

When asked about her thoughts on being a woman in such a male-dominated field, Pamela stated, “people attack me regularly because I go against the conventional financial wisdom.” She also offered an inspiring quote from her mentor, Dan Kennedy, “It’s been so profoundly powerful for me ‘If you’re not offending someone by noon every day then you’re not doing much.'” Despite her critics, like a true superhero, Pamela still persists and we are thankful for it.

Switching gears, the interview would not have been complete without garnering some financial advice from the guru herself. Money and financial security or lack thereof can be a great cause of fear and anxiety for anybody. Understanding that a large part of overcoming fear or anxiety involves doing something different, rather it be challenging yourself or learning something new. Pamela’s book encourages you to do both.

With no regard to socio-economic status, age, or income, Bank On Yourself allows consumers to achieve their goals and take control of their financial situation by avoiding Wall Street while challenging financial institutions and their tactics.

While different groups have benefited from Pamela’s books, advice, and financial expertise; by far the group that has benefited the most have been the baby-boomer generation. “I think a lot of baby boomers and women have benefited from my books because the baby-boomers are the ones or the group that no longer has guaranteed pensions from their companies and their basically on their own to save for their own retirement.” For those still reeling from the Recession, looking to recover from slow economic growth, or gain financial freedom Pamela advises “if you’re not comfortable with the idea of never being sure that you’ll have you know a certain amount of money for retirement you need to look at safe and guaranteed methods of saving for retirement.”

Rather it is public speaking, finances, or career guidance; no matter how successful, when it comes to certain things, fear and doubt can set in and if left unaddressed will find a permanent home in our lives. To learn more about some of these safe financial methods and get a free and safe wealth building report, you can visit www.bankonyourself.com.

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Politics

Who Listens When You Lack Power and Privilege?

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Colin Kaepernick Photo Credit: FB

How do we differentiate who we are from what we are? Do titles really define who we are or what we think about people? Do we not care about who they are as a person; their morals, values, and stances?

We are asked as children what we want to be when we grow up, which is often answered by a title – a police officer, teacher, a professional athlete. We don’t get asked who we want to be, or what we want to be known for.

We often assign respect and obedience to certain titles without thinking the expectations we have of someone who holds it. Some may exceed expectations, and others may not be close to meeting them. But, what do we do when we learn who they are as a person and not the title they hold?

A professional football player kneeled during the national anthem because police officers were not meeting the expectations society has relayed on them. But rather than join his efforts in holding them accountable for their deadly actions, he lost his job for getting involved in something that isn’t part of his job description.

Collin Kaepernick’s job is to be a quarterback and not protest injustices which is what some of his critics say. He showed us who he is as a person, what he stands for, and what he believes in. In return, he is villainized and no longer is he considered a good football player, but has been rebranded as a troublemaker. Is that fair?

Power and privilege are two concepts that most people strive to obtain, but some may never achieve it. These two things are primarily held in the hands of white men in America. Minorities lack the social status to have powerful messages heard and understood by White America which often leads to relying on our white counterparts to understand our situation in order for something to get done.

Collin Kaepernick had a platform at his disposal which was the NFL. He used his stage in hopes of giving a voice to an issue troubling his community because this was something “white America” isn’t experiencing, nor could they understand the lived fear people of color have of the police.

Because this was something the majority did not understand, Kaepernick’s behavior was too radical for unaffected to be willing to listen and pay attention to the real issue, police brutality. Kneeling during the flag and national anthem was not about disrespecting the flag or national anthem. His kneeling was to bring attention to an epidemic faced by a particular group of Americans.

When we often hold positions of power, we expect others to listen to us and conform to our desires. When something is not presented how we like it, we are less likely to value that person and what they believe.

One of the core values of the social work profession is the dignity and worth of the person. Acknowledging the reality that not everyone will be affected the same. The willingness to listen to others when they’re trying to tell their story can go as far as saving someone’s life.

If the reasoning for Kaepernick’s kneeling had been met with empathy when he shared why he was kneeling, the issue of police brutality would have remained the center of the issue instead of NFL players being called “sons of bitches” by the President of the United States because he doesn’t like them kneeling.

If the people in power, the NFL stakeholders, the President of the United States, and other officials who can hold law enforcement accountable, cared as much about issues like police brutality as they did about football players kneeling, American lives could literally be saved.

Unfortunately, when minorities with no standing and power in America try to bring awareness to social issues where minorities are also the victims, no one seems willing to listen or do anything about it.

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Culture

The Grand Challenge of Thoughts and Prayers

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The snapping sound of my laptop closing echoed in the room as I stared up at the ceiling and shoved it aside along with the glaring screen and endless scroll of ‘thoughts and prayers‘. Realizing that I had a visceral reaction to seeing ‘thoughts and prayers’ tweeted out by well-meaning people for I’m not sure how many thousands of times now. I puzzled over why this time caused more reaction than other similar events. I won’t even bother to name the incident because it will be dated by the time I finish this article.

The endless snark of the social media blame game (this includes me at times, it’s a coping mechanism) and the seeming avoidance of meaningful action post “marking” events like Sandy Hook or Las Vegas in its level of horror was just too much today.

Maybe it’s the stark nothingness that has followed. In the subsequent, daily violence, the blame of outsiders, leadership, anyone but ourselves for taking action that will result in change, is what must change.

What’s my bias, you ask? The lack of action from anyone posting about guns, walls, terror, foreigners or travel bans outside of snide social media posts. I beg everyone to take meaningful action and then share that on your social media.

Let’s start with the pro-gun people.

Individuals who believe we need guns to protect ourselves from a corrupt government or to keep yourself safe from harm.

Your Action: Go take a class on how to be a hero to satisfy your John Wayne fantasies without getting anyone else or yourself, killed in the process.

I’m quite serious under the sarcastic tone. I think it’s 99% fantasy that you are going to contribute to stopping mass shooters, but at least you are doing something. Share about the awesome class you’ve taken, and how you’ve reduced your “freeze time” in reacting to a guy with a semi-automatic weapon pointed at you or family members while at school, church, the local Walmart or while watching the latest Disney movie at the theatre. Practice should certainly help you if you find yourself at a packed outdoor concert with thousands of people. Make sure to take the advanced class at aiming for shooters at 15 plus stories above (also without shooting bystanders or others in the building). Make sure to share with everyone the smoke signals you learned to share with the local law enforcement, who will surely appreciate your well -trained help in the next mass shooting incident.

NRA Defensive Pistol Course

The NRA Defensive Pistol course will focus on the techniques needed to develop a defensive mindset. The goal of the course will be to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to carry and use a concealed pistol ethically, responsibly and with confidence… This course is only conducted by NRA certified Advanced Pistol Instructors.

NRA FIRST Steps Rifle Orientation

Firearm Instruction, Responsibility, and Safety Training is the NRA’s response to the American public’s need for a firearm orientation program for new purchasers.

You can even check their ratings on Yelp.

Next, let’s talk with the travel ban people.

Your Action: Get a big paper map

Get yourself a world map- the type that covers your entire wall, old- school style with accessorized colored push- pins. I won’t tell you how to code your travel ban countries but you’ll need to, in 4th-grade style, create a key and chart about the history of mass shootings in the US and make sure we’re covering the right countries. Don’t let phrases like “extra super extreme vetting” confuse you.

Better yet, just list the countries that you believe pose a danger to America based on recent history (I’m trying to be reasonable- perhaps since 2007?). Then look at the travel ban list- how do they match up? If they don’t, there’s your short list of action items. Find out why the “terrorist countries” aren’t on the list then contact your local, state and federal representatives about it. Share that on your social media.

Here’s a link to the Department of State: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/news/important-announcement.html

For the “Build the Wall” people:

Do you want to build a wall to keep out people who fly here? Who are you trying to keep out? If it’s the Terrorist Catholics from Mexico you’ll need to make that case, but far too many responses to news and social media reports are reactionary to terrorists who flew here on an airplane or actually live here in the US.

Your Action: Check the country of origin for the latest mass shooting or terror attack on the map and compare it to the travel ban list to see if your noise on social media is adding to creating change or confusing the uneducated. If they can’t walk here, surely it’s the latter.

For gun safety or anti-gun people:

Know what “they” have for support and organizing versus what you do. There’s money all around, but being a paid member of a club like the National Rifle Association gives a base of actionable information sharing that those who lack organized structure do not. Gun safety advocates need to reach out to the community and invite them in, not just ask for donations about something they believe is obvious and based on moral outrage. Teach others how to organize- the NRA’s annual meeting has something like 80,000 members present every year. Professor Harie Han wrote about this in “How Organizations Develop Activists” which I stumbled upon while looking for others who think along similar lines.

Using terms like “gun violence prevention” is more useful and descriptive for most arguments (and reflective of almost all Americans) rather than “gun control”. An easy action item is to learn your local and state laws on gun violence prevention and join an already established group like Everytown that is making headway and has coffee meetups for new members. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Most of all, do rather than say– then share what you’re doing and why. Your focused time will reflect your passion for change and will be more likely to draw others in.

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