Is it just me or do athletes (and other sports legends) seem to get away with more when it comes to our society's "Moral Code" (that's assuming our culture has a "Moral Code")? If you don't believe me, let's comb through a few examples in recent memory. Most recently, Penn State Football coaching legend Joe Paterno was let go from his august position because he allegedly covered up the actions of his assistant Jerry Sandusky, who has been accused of sexually molesting several young boys. After the decision was made public, several people felt that Paterno should not have been fired and that the Penn State Board of Directors made a huge mistake. Now, I am not here to decide whether he should or should not have been fired (that is a school's decision) and I am not here to discuss whether he did anything illegal (that is for the law and the courts to hash out). But, what I am wondering is why (for those people crying foul) Mr. Paterno is ethically "in the clear" when there are several pieces of evidence that point to his deceit and his partaking in a cover-up (something that over 35 years ago forced a U.S. President to resign from office). It seems that Mr. Paterno's years of service to the world of College Football have bought him a kind of immunity when it comes to some people's version of morality.
If this were the only example in recent years, then I would consider this an anomaly and this article would be extremely short (or even non-existent!). But the Penn State case is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to athletes seemingly getting special treatment from our culture. Just look at Kobe Bryant or Ben Roethlisberger. Both of them well-respected athletes who were accused of sexual assault. But since both of their respective cases could not be proved, each athlete has since continued to gain fans and have seemingly flourished in their sports. It seems that some sports fans are willing to overlook dangerous (and even violent) allegations because of their top sports skills.
And then there is the use of steroids in the sport of Baseball. Several players (including Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) have had their careers called into question because of their alleged use of enhancement drugs. But, interestingly enough, most of the speculation and investigations came towards the end of their respective careers and after they had broken or sustained several high-profile Baseball records. And let's not even get into the Tiger Woods story!
Now, I am sure I am overreaching. You can point out to me that O. J. Simpson is in jail. And yes, he is...but not for murder (technically). He is in prison for armed robbery, assault and a kidnapping charge. He has the possibility of parole in 6 years. Now, that seems like a lot for armed robbery and assault (even for Nevada!), but I am sure Simpson's past "brushes" with the law were at least in the back of the minds of the jurors on his trial. But that first Simpson trial always comes to mind when it comes to a sports celebrity "getting away with it." It has been said by many that the jury in that notorious trial were not willing to put a celebrity like Simpson in prison for murders that he most likely (but could not be proven) did.
And, of course, you could point out that Pete Rose went to jail for his crimes. But there are still debates to this day about his banishment from being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, even after he admitted his wrongdoings in his memoirs (though he didn't refer to them as "wrongdoings"). Once again, I am not complaining, I am just pointing out some interesting observations.
And maybe I am just pointlessly pontificating. When it comes to Celebrities (and that includes Entertainers too!), the degree to which the culture will "forgive" their indiscretions can go either way. They certainly walk that fine line between being atop the pedestal and being the social pariah. And oftentimes (as my father has smartly pointed out!), some of these Celebrities get targeted because of their fame. It can be a very polarizing issue and I am very interested to hear people's thoughts. Is there a different kind of ethics when the culture is dealing with a sports star (or any kind of star!)? Is there a line that no Celebrity should cross? Or are ethics and morality too subjective for a culture to have a collective "code?" Don't be shy, say what you feel (just no gratuitous language or inflammatory rhetoric!).