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Home / Articles / Columnists / Sports Feature /  Athletes, Fans and The Law: A Puzzling Mix
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Monday, June 3,2024

Athletes, Fans and The Law: A Puzzling Mix

By Mark Tudino  
The recent dustup in Louisville involving the world’s number one golfer, Scottie Scheffler, and the Louisville Police Department involving an apparent misunderstanding over access to a golf clubhouse during a traffic homicide investigation, was the perfect illustration of one of my favorite maxims: the best of intentions often yields the worst of results. Scheffler was arrested and charged with a truckload of offenses, and none of them of the minor variety. Second degree assault on a police office and reckless driving are not violations to be scoffed at; quite the opposite. In fact, by the time you read this column, one of two things will have occurred: either young Mr. Scheffler will have been bonded over and a trial date set (unlikely), or he will strike a plea bargain and be ordered to perform some sort of community service, along with a fine (more likely). That is if the charges are not themselves dropped altogether. His situation highlights what is often a combustible mix in today’s popular – and increasingly angry – culture. That of celebrity status and our worship of the same, versus maintaining the rule of law.

In the 21st century, sports fans have long since dropped the notion that their favorite athletes are invincible, that heroes are to be worshipped, and their peccadilloes are to be ignored. Society has instant access to every police blotter from here to Nome, Alaska, and with the advent of cellphone cameras, can often see our favorite sports stars in a less than a flattering light. American football players are seemingly the greatest transgressors: from Ray Lewis to Rae Carruth to, yes, the late O.J. Simpson, their arrests, trials and incarcerations have caused fans to develop a sort of bipolar reality. On the one hand, you know what the athlete did is wrong and warrants punishment (though in Lewis’ case he escaped responsibility be cause of a lack of evidence), but on the other, you cannot wait to cheer him on the next Sunday.

It’s all very tribal and very weird.

In some cases, we welcome back the athlete as the wronged victim. Lewis is lionized in Baltimore. College football star Reggie Bush recently had his Heisman Trophy returned to him years after he had admitted to receiving improper benefits from an agent (thanks to NIL and a new way of viewing his actions).

Some are less fortunate.

Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens never returned to professional football, after video of his beating his then girlfriend surfaced. Ditto Colin Kaepernick, who was initially blackballed for advocating social justice, following police-involved shootings of Black victims. The idea of this problem being uniquely American, or being restricted to our football heroes, is also not true. International paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius is currently serving 15 years on a murder charge, yet there remain people convinced of his innocence who want him to return to competitive athletics.

What do these stories have to do with a misunderstanding in Kentucky over a traffic accident? Maybe nothing. Or maybe it’s another chance for us to ask ourselves, collectively, who we are, what we stand for, and for whom we should be applauding? Maybe a “simple misunderstanding” in Kentucky really means we should gain some perspective in our lives before we cheer our next touchdown or home run.



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