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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.

Disability

Colin Kaepernick and How Self Care Must Go Pro

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For years, permanently injured players have been left to figure out how they will financially support their families and how they will carry on with their lives after committing years to football. Currently, the NFL is settling numerous lawsuits from former players who claim that their disabilities resulted from injuries on the field. But that’s not the only controversy stirring in the NFL.

In Fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. At the time, many believed the media would quickly move on to another more trendy story. Afterall, he wasn’t chanting or picketing. He was simply kneeling. But as weeks passed, white anger slowly unveiled itself, and patriotism took the main stage. Critics saw Kaepernick’s quiet gesture as a radical protest. Yet, he still knelt game after game.

Kaepernick proved his physical ability early in his professional career by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. At that time the public didn’t know that Kaepernick had a metal rod placed in his left leg prior to his rookie year. Still, he attended and did well in practices. But in 2015, he injured his left shoulder and would later report injuries to his thumb and knee.

Working with such disabilities would prove challenging to most people, particularly for professional athletes who are required to demonstrate physical grit day after day. When Kaepernick’s scoring record took a hit, questions arose as to whether he was worth his contract. But Kaepernick saw himself as more than just damaged goods. He had something else to offer: a perspective on the value of black lives in America.

By kneeling, Kaepernick demonstrated ownership of his body, a black body that has been endangered for a time that is too long to measure. That is a radical act of self-care. The concept of self-care, for a long time, was viewed as a luxury accessible to an elite few. And, self-care is publicly declaring that your life matters beyond what your performance on the football field.

In a recent interview, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said he thinks that Kaepernick was released because he’s not a great player, not because he didn’t stand for the anthem. He added that from the perspective of a team owner, Kaepernick isn’t worth the distraction if he can’t play well. However, star quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Cam Newton came out in support of Kaepernick. Both stated he should be starting in the NFL, but he isn’t due to his protest of the national anthem.

I’d argue that even when athletes play well, there is a general discomfort with them expressing resistance to racism. They usually are told to stick to the game, proving once again that a working, non-resistant black body is most favorable (and profitable) in this society.

The NFL has a longstanding history of utilizing bodies for financial gain, in particular, black bodies. It is a marketplace for bodies. Bodies that can be negotiated and sold and traded in the name of increasing revenue. I hear sports fans say often that certain teams don’t win because the owners ‘don’t want to spend the money’. However, Kaepernick was recently released from his contract, something for which he seemed prepared.

According to the New York Times, NFL players are becoming permanently disabled after suffering head traumas. Those injuries have caused concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, some players’ wives have created at least one space, in the form of a private Facebook group, where they share their experiences and gain strength from each other as they become caregivers and advocates for men who once were larger than life. I believe that this generation of athletes will begin to demand more than money for play. They will demand the right to safety and self-care, and they will begin to plan for their legacies and quality of life off the field.

Athletes are human and imperfect. For many, they are heroes which must be a compliment, but it must also be a lot of pressure. This next generation of athletes will need to employ a high degree of self-care if they want to have a productive career and higher quality life after retirement.

Athletes inspire us because of their consistency and their unmatched desire to win. I’ve never met an athlete who thought second place was good enough. They want to be the best. Their drive is a metaphor for how many of us want to live our best lives.

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Culture

New Study Reveals ‘Marrying Up’ Is Now Easier for Men, Improves Their Economic Well-Being

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As the number of highly educated women has increased in recent decades, the chances of “marrying up” have increased significantly for men and decreased for women, according to a new study led by a University of Kansas sociologist.

“The pattern of marriage and its economic consequences have changed over time,” said lead author ChangHwan Kim, associate professor of sociology. “Now women are more likely to get married to a less-educated man. What is the consequence of this?”

Kim’s co-authored the study with Arthur Sakamoto of Texas A&M University, and the journal Demography recently published their findings. They examined gender-specific changes in the total financial return to education among people of prime working ages, 35 to 44 years old, using U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000 and the 2009-2011 American Community Survey.

The researchers investigated the return to education not only in labor markets but also in the marriage market.

“Previously, women received more total financial return to education than men, because their return in the marriage market was high. However, this female advantage has deteriorated over time despite women’s substantial progress in education and labor-market performance,” Kim said.

The researchers found the overall net advantage of being female in terms of family-standard-of-living decreased approximately 13 percent between 1990 and 2009-2011. Women’s personal earnings have grown faster than men’s earnings during this time as women have increased their education and experienced a greater return on education.

However, the number of highly educated women exceeds the number of highly educated men in the marriage market, the researchers found. Women are more likely to be married to a less-educated man. Because of the combined facts that husbands are less educated than their wives than before, and the return on earnings for men has stagnated, a husband’s contribution to family income has decreased. On the other hand, wives’ contribution to family income has substantially increased.

This has led to a faster improvement of the family standard of living for men than for equally educated women themselves, Kim said, and helped converge the gap in equivalised income between wives and husbands.

“This could explain why it seems men don’t complain a lot about this,” Kim said. “Our answer is that’s true because look at the actual quality of life, which is determined more likely by family income rather than by personal earnings. It seems fine for men because their wife is now bringing more income to the household. One implication of these findings is that the importance of marriage market has increased for men’s total economic well-being.”

These developments could also result in gender convergence in the family standard of living associated with this shift in the norm of marriage, away from previous eras.

“Marriage is now becoming more egalitarian and becoming equal,” Kim said. “If you look at gender dynamics or from a marriage-equality standpoint, that is a really good sign.”

However, the study’s results also have implications for examining potential effects of marriage and economic inequality.

“For less-educated women, the contribution of their husbands has been substantially reduced so that their standard of living has diminished, even though their personal earnings have grown,” the researchers said.

This could aggravate a wealth gap among less-educated or low-income families, the researchers said. Kim said potential future research could monitor how family demography still shapes and directly underlies inequality, even as family relations continue to evolve.

“When we consider family dynamics,” Kim said, “men are getting the benefit from women’s progress.”

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Entertainment

Have You Heard the “Suicide Prevention Anthem 1-800-273-8255”

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MTV – VMAs

National Suicide Prevention Month begins on September 1st, and MTV officially kicked off the awareness month with a performance of “1-800-273-8255” by Logic along with Khalid and Alessia Cara at the VMAs. The song’s title just happens to be the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the performance also included a group of suicide attempt survivors who came on stage wearing shirts with the number to the suicide helpline.

The song begins from the perspective of someone who wants to die and feels there is no one there to care about what happens to them. The opening hook for the song states, “I don’t want to be alive, I just want to die today, I just want to die.” Some may take an issue with the beginning of the song, but it can not be understated the importance of identifying those feelings in order to seek help.

A recent study which included 32 children’s hospital across the United States revealed an alarming increase in self-harm and suicidality in children and teens ranges from ages 5 to 17 over the past decade. Also, the School of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Birmingham released a recent study stating, “Children and young people under-25 who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to enact self-harm and attempt suicide than non-victims.”

The second hook starts with “I want you to be alive, You don’t gotta die today, You don’t gotta die.” The song moves from a place of darkness to a place of support. When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, it is critical to not dismiss their feelings or minimize the weight of the issues preventing them from wanting to live. The Center for Disease control list death by suicide as the number 1 cause of death in the 15-19 age group. According to the National Data on Campus Suicides, “1 in 12 college students have written down a suicide plan as a result of stresses related to school, work, relationships, social life, and still developing as a young adult.”

John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in an interview talked about the impact the song is already having. Draper said: “The impact has been pretty extraordinary. On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service. Overall, calls to the hotline are up roughly 33% from this time last year.” via CNN

“I finally want to be alive, I don’t want to die today, I don’t want to die” are the lyrics and the tone in which the songs end. Then, it leads into an incredibly woke statement by Logic, and here is a sample:

“I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally at that is why we must fight!” – Logic VMAs

The trend for suicide deaths is on an upward climb. A 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control state there were twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. It’s time we end the stigma and myths surrounding suicide attempt survivors “doing it for the attention.” Suicidal thoughts may be an ongoing struggle instead of a one-off event to prevent. In this case, we need to arm loved ones and at risk individuals with information as well as tools and resource to manage their mental health status.

Suicide Warning Signs

Another useful resource is the Crisis Text Line in which users can send a text to a trained counselor and typically receive a response within 5 minutes. Texters can begin by texting “START to 741741” to get connected.

Mental Health providers and practitioners are always looking for ways to connect and reach those most at risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors, and pop culture often has a direct connection to those who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, a recent study identified a link between 13 Reasons Why and suicidal thoughts in which it found “queries about suicide and how to commit suicide spiked in the show’s wake.”

However, unlike Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why“, this song is already showing that it will have the opposite effect by increasing queries and online searches about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you have not seen this powerful VMA performance, I urge you to check it out.

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