Athletes Above the Law?

December 6, 2011

Political Theory


Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress are two very recent, noteworthy examples of individuals receiving preferable treatment due to their athletic, celebrity status. In order to refresh our memories, let’s reexamine each case…

Michael Vick: On July 17th, 2007, Michael Vick was indicted by the federal government due to a connection with a dogfighting operation that was run on his own property in Surry County, Virginia. Due to these initial allegations, Vick was facing anywhere from 1-5 years behind bars. As more details came out regarding the severity of the case, it seemed very likely that Vick would be “deserving” of a sentence much closer to five years, not one. In the end, he got out of jail after just 19 months.

Plaxico Burress: During the early morning hours of Saturday, November 28th, Burress was out at a New York City nightclub with several teammates when he incidentally shot himself in the leg. It turns out that he was carrying an unauthorized firearm without a holster. According to the law, an incident such as this is grounds for a 3-5 year jail sentence. To make a long story short, Plaxico Burress was ultimately released from prison after 20 months.

What do these two incidents say about athletes and American society as a whole? At first glance, it certainly seems as if athletes are given preferable treatment simply due to their status in life. For the sake of argument, assuming that is the case, how should the average American feel about this? Coming from a huge sports fanatic, I for one think it is complete bullshit. I have accepted that this is indicative of the world we live in and the unfair reality that coincides with it, however, I still feel the need to point out that it is unfair. If the law clearly indicates that Plaxico Burress should receive anywhere from 3-5 years in federal prison, why should he get out after a mere 20 months? Does the fact that his name is Plaxico Burress make it more acceptable for him to beak the law than Joe Schmo? The same goes for Michael Vick. If his actions warranted close to five years in jail, how did he manage to get out after only 19 months?

Perhaps a justification for why athletes are constantly the beneficiaries of such desirable treatment is due to the fact that countless people idolize them. If a star athlete is behind bars for an extended period of time, what message does that send to all of the young kids who idolize them? Ultimately, if athletes fail, then our youth may potentially fail as well, as it is easy to lose site of yourself without the role model that you have always looked up to. Who knows what failing may entail for adolescents? Consequences could range anywhere from receiving poor grades in school to committing serious crimes on the streets. Fair or unfair, athletes will always be placed above the law, simply because of who they are and what they represent. They are heroes that represent the American dream of fame and fortune. Too many people look up to them and embrace them.

Edmund Burke, a brilliant thinker that we discussed in class, would not condone the actions of Michael Vick or Plaxico Burress. However, he would find justification for the ruling of the court, as I did above. The notion that athletes are often placed above the law because people need heroes to embrace is likely valid. Putting the role model of an 8-year-old boy behind bars for several years has the potential to change that boy for the rest of his life. Again, if that boy finds his idol in jail, what kind of message does that send?

The difference between my view and Edmund Burke’s view is that while I can envision the potential repercussions from athletes going to jail, I do not agree with the decision to let them off easy. On the other hand, Edmund Burke is a firm believer in myth and illusion. As he stated, “to make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” In other words, it is irrelevant whether Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress truly deserved to get off light. All that matters is whether people believe they were entitled to a fortunate court ruling or not. People must be given something to believe in when they have nothing. In the respective cases of Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress, individuals were given a chance to believe that there was still hope for their hero. They were sent a message that in due time, these athletes would have a chance to turn their lives around and restore their images.

Do you believe in Edmund Burke’s theory of myth and illusion? Furthermore, do you think that giving people a sense of hope is worth the price of granting athletes exclusive and undeserved treatment? If so, where must society draw the line? Are athletes truly above the law?

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10 Comments on “Athletes Above the Law?”

  1. ndreynolds864 Says:

    I agree that these athletes, Vick and Burress, did get off easy for their crimes but we do not know what happened in the institutions. They could have been let out for good behavior not simply because they were athletes. Most people don’t serve their full sentences in prison and get off with a few years of probation based on their behavior. From both of their behaviors post prison I can actually see they benefited from the prison system. Vick and Burress have both revived their careers with different teams and have started to rebuild their reputations into something to be proud of. The myth and illusion that our favorite athletes will at some point return have actually had them both return to have arguably better careers than before and definitely better people after the prison system.

  2. scottmha Says:

    Your argument is valid, and I do agree that it is unfair that athletes get special treatment, but there definitely are some loose ends. Your forgetting about a key thing that we have in our justice system- parole. Plaxico was originally sentenced to a lengthier jail time, but due to his good attitude he was paroled. Shouldn’t that be a sign that he has been rehabilitated and is ready to join society again? While I agree athletes get special treatment, I don’t think you picked the right case. Though I do not think it is granted that athletes should get special treatment due to the fact that they are idolized by many. Do you think it’s worse for a kid to see Mike Vick go to jail for committing a crime, or for a kid to see Mike Vick commit a crime then be able to avoid jail time? Kids often idolize their role models and may believe that they too could commit a crime and not be held accountable for it. There is absolutely NO justification for athletes getting special treatment due to the fact that they are role models.

  3. reidmech7892 Says:

    I do agree that athletes, such as Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress got off, seemingly, a little easier. The reasoning for this, however, is completely questionable, ambiguous, and up for debate. Ideally they were both released early because, as national icons, they have an abundance of fans willing to vouch for their release. Though unfair, this can be conducive to unwanted heavy media attention drawn to the correctional facilities housing these athletes, which ultimately would cause them to release the athletes for their own, business-oriented benefit. Realistically, however, it is likely that Vick and Burress were able to afford lawyers good enough to make an under-the-table deal with the judge and/or prosecutors for an early release subject to increased bail, longer probation, and more community service. Along with this, the NFL specifically may have a played a vital role in their early release; perhaps the organization wanted to shorten their term to limit the embarrassment the league had faced, faces, and will face as a result. In all yes, it is unfair that these players are released early without any plausible reason. However, it may actually be to our society’s benefit: with their early release, the youth in our society may be able to look past their poor judgement and look up to them as athletic heroes once again.

  4. lnk72792 Says:

    I agree with you. I think that it is ridiculous for athletes to be able to shorten their sentences because they are celebrities. I think that something really needs to change here because it is sending a bad message to young kids. I understand that the purpose is to accomplish the opposite, by role models like Michael Vick speaking out against dog fighting. However, what if it does the opposite, and makes children say to themselves: “Hey, if Michael Vick can do all those bad things and get off so easy, maybe I can too…” There is real danger in this occurring and there is no telling what could happen if that is in fact the results of this. I do not think it will get close to that extreme, but then again, what if it does… Is that really worth it. All human beings should be treated equal (we do live in a democracy, right?) Anyway, it is absurd that this is actually going on and the district attorney’s office should be ashamed of themselves.

  5. mimirofl Says:

    I hear about magnified cases such as these on T.V where movie stars and athletes always tend to get it on the easier end when it comes to the law. It could be all about money and connections. Celebrities have an abundance of money so they hire the topnotch lawyers who are well known in the justice world, who then could manipulate and bargain for an easier sentencing for their client. Edmund Burke believed that order is unequal in society because people have different rules and functions. It can be applied to this case of athletes and the majority of the population. Athletes are regarded as higher on the social triangle, while the working class is seen as peasants therefore aren’t treated as well.

    Regarding to your argument, I agree in saying that there is definitely no justification for giving athletes special treatment even though they are seen as great role models. Great role models do not commit crimes and act unjustly. Athletes are merely puppets on ropes that our nation holds up,, and if society can cut that rope when needed (when crimes are committed and giving them equal sentencing like others) then hopefully these great role models we have will see that they can’t get away easily and that they are still regular citizens in the United States.

  6. benjishanus Says:

    In response to what reidmech7892 said regarding athletes being able to afford top-notch lawyers that are generally able to agree to a settlement with the prosecutor, I think that is a very fair point. However, is it perhaps possible that one of their arguments that they harp heavily on for why athletes should get out early is due to the fact that society needs them as role models? That is something to think about.

    Also regarding what scottmha said in relation to parole, that is also a valid point, however, even taking that into account, the jail sentences for both Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress were still initially significantly shorter than what they should have been. I agree that due to good behavior they were rewarded, but I definitely believe there is more to it than that.

  7. goldman13 Says:

    The author raises an interesting point about whether or not the preferential treatment of athletes affect the youth in today’s world. If young children idolize these athletes, as many do, then I’m sure they are somehow affected by the crimes that they commit. Will a child fan of Michael Vick grow up to breed dogs for dogfighting? There is no way of knowing. However, I disagree with the author when he writes “Ultimately, if athletes fail, then our youth may potentially fail as well.” If this fictional child fan of Michael Vick becomes a dogfighter in his later years, then when he gets caught, he will feel the full wrath of the law because he’s not a famous athlete. The children that look u to these players will not be given the leniency that they did, and therefore, hopefully the justice system will reverse the negative mindset that their role models have imposed.

    I agree that Burke would support the justice system because he accepts the inequality that is present in today’s world. Athletes make an exorbitant amount of money, are regarded as heroes, and are sometimes above the law. But that is just the way it is.

    Also, just a sidenote; the majority of people who are given jail time in the United States do not serve their full sentences. People get out early all the time, whether because of good behavior or visible change.

  8. bmschmid Says:

    I don’t believe athletes should be above the law and they should not get preferential treatment in the court of law. Convicted felons, regardless of the fact that they are sport stars, shouldn’t be idolized or looked up to as a role model for kids when they act so immature. The message that a jail sentence sends to kids who idolize these sport stars should not be to continue following in their unlawful acts and end up causing problems on the streets, but rather look at them as the opposite of a role model. Someone who represents the exact opposite of what you should aspire to. Positive role models are important for the youth, but stating that if a sport star commits a crime, then this will lead to more unlawful acts by these children is a little bit ridiculous. Kids who idolize a sport star aren’t that entranced with their allegiance to that player to the extent that if their hero commits a crime, then they will have no motivation and will start “receiving poor grades in school”.

    However, Americans love the comeback story. But, it shouldn’t be at the cost of the cutting corners in the legal system by significantly shorter jail sentencing and getting off easy.

  9. #jasonschwartz Says:

    I think that in some cases your right, athletes are made out to be heros and as a result of this, it would also make sense that they would get less time behind bars than other people. What your case has failed to state is what has happened to celebrities like michael vick once they have gotten out of prison. Vick, for one has fully reclaimed his name within the NFL. He has become a started for the Philadelphia eagles and has once again become a hero of the people. He has constantly repented his sins on national television, and truely has redeemed himself. Success stories like these are actually a good thing for children who look up to these role models. They can learn at an early age that people are not perfect, and they for sure don’t have to be. Furthermore, through success stories like Vick’s, they are also able to whiteness that whenever life knocks them down, they will always be able to get back up.

  10. benjishanus Says:

    You raise a fair point with Michael Vick, however, to say that he “isn’t perfect” due to the actions he’s committed is a pretty far cry from reality. People need to understand the severity of his actions and the only way for most people to have understood this in full effect would have been for Michael Vick to have served a more substantial amount of time in prison. I agree that it’s nice to see comebacks stories such as his (despite the fact that I despise him), but in my opinion, these opportunities must take a back seat when it comes to upholding the integrity of United States law enforcement.

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