Want to guess how many University of Pittsburgh football players have criminal records? How about across the top 25 college teams (as ranked by Sports Illustrated)? These are the questions that prompted SI‘s Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian to investigate and report on a pretty astonishing preponderance of violent criminal records among college football’s top players.
The answers, if you were wondering, were 22 from Pitt alone, and 204 players from the top 25 teams (Note: that’s number of players, not number of incidents. Many players have multiple arrests).
My initial reaction was to launch into a rant that would probably include words like “entitlement,” “ridiculous,” “superiority complexes,” “boneheaded” and “Ben Roethlistberger.” I decided to take a shower and think it over instead.
On one hand: We do not subject the average college applicant to a criminal background check. I think this is partly because juvenile records are (rightly) sealed. I would also hope that most universities don’t believe in holding a youthful indiscretion (shoplifting, for example) against someone for the rest of their lives. Teenagers do dumb shit, and the don’t deserve to be penalized forever.
On the other hand: The “dumb shit” that Benedict and Keteyian uncovered included 25 cases of assault and battery, six of domestic violence and three sexual assaults.
On the first hand: If we don’t screen all applicants, I don’t think it’s fair to screen athletic recruits by a different standard.
On the second hand: They are already held to a different standard, namely the ability to run exceptionally fast or push exceptionally heavy people around, or throw a ball exceptionally accurately.
On the first hand again: How does a university respond when the average student gets arrested for a violent offense? Should we kick ourselves for not investigating into his/her juvenile criminal background upon application?
I don’t know which hand I’m on: Elite football players seem to have a higher incidence of violent action than the average student. But it still seems unfair to target them for specific investigation….
The last hand: Big name athletes at most levels (especially male athletes) tend to dodge the normal set of consequences associated with crime and misbehavior. They are financial and social assets to their teams and communities, and consequently excused from the penalties that average folks pay for doing bad things. As long as this double standard persists, it seems fair to impose a double standard on the front end (i.e. more extensive background checks). That being said, I don’t believe that an isolated adolescent incident should result in the disbarment of a player. Coaches and universities should, however, be on the lookout for patterns of violent behavior that pose a threat to other students (and unfortunately more importantly, the reputations of their programs).
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