August 7th, 2013
02:58 PM ET
Opinion by Larry Alex Taunton, special to CNN
(CNN) - Being a sports fan these days almost requires a law degree. What with all the legal troubles of athletes, who can keep up?
Lawyers certainly have the edge in the fantasy leagues. The rest of us keep one on retainer.
Still, even they might have some difficulty predicting outcomes. Will the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez actually be suspended? Will Riley Cooper be cut from the Philadelphia Eagles? Will Johnny Manziel lose his NCAA eligibility?
With this in mind, my crack team of researchers has produced a list of Seven Deadly Sins in Sports and the punishments you can expect to be meted out to the athletes in question.
Before we get to the list, however, there are a couple of principles you must bear in mind to make sense of crime and the sporting landscape:
The First Principle is that there are no principles.
This will become obvious as we go along, but it is nonetheless critical that you understand this if you want to win that coveted league championship.
The Second Principle is that the athlete stands a better chance of weathering controversy if he is really good.
Albert Speer and Werner von Braun were both members of Germany's SS and both used slave labor. But Speer was an architect. America didn’t need another architect and Speer got 20 years in prison.
Von Braun, on the other hand, was a rocket scientist. Now here was a franchise player. Von Braun received fame, fortune and a lot of buildings named after him.
So it is in sports. Get it?
Now, to the list (from least to most deadly):
7. Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder, Accessory to Murder, and Manslaughter
Got a guy on your roster accused of being involved in a murder? Don’t panic. The truth is, this deadly sin isn’t all that deadly for the alleged perp.
How this plays out largely depends on the Second Principle: Is he really good?
No, on second thought, in these instances your draftee must be great.
Aaron Hernandez was good. He’s being held in jail on murder charges. Ray Lewis was great. So were his lawyers. They negotiated a plea agreement to obstruction of justice and authorities dropped a murder charge. Lewis served probation but did not miss a game, and is now an elder statesman of the NFL.
The lesson here is this: If you have someone like Hernandez on your fantasy team, try to trade him. But don’t expect much in return.
If, however, your player has been accused of manslaughter, you can breathe easy. The first part of that word is the key: manslaughter. If he killed a dog, he’s looking at hard time.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Remember, your players can afford solid legal counsel and so long as the victim is anonymous and not, say, Justin Bieber, you can expect your player to receive something along the lines of probation or community service.
This depends on the sport. Tour de France? Your guy is done for the season, if not for life.
But who ever heard of a Tour de France fantasy league? Let’s not be silly, this is America. And in America professional players’ unions are strong and the burden of proof is high.
As a consequence, suspected steroid users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens may not make the Baseball Hall of Fame anytime soon, but their records and bank accounts are safe.
Got Alex Rodriguez on your team? You’re in luck; $100 million can buy a lot of lawyers and that translates to a playoff berth for you - if only he could stay off the disabled list!
5. Accepting money* (Applies only to amateur athletes)
This one is a bit tricky because the punishments, if caught, can be stiff: loss of eligibility, forfeiture of games and awards, etc.
But, like steroids, the burden of proof is high. So unless someone wearing Google Glass saw your guy accept money, he should be fine.
4. Putting out bounties on your opponents.
This is a no-no, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear.
It’s not so much that the NFL is opposed to violence. If your player is involved in a domestic violence case, he may not even miss practice.
Bounty hunters, however, are another matter. Keep these athletes on your roster at your own risk. Even if they are later cleared to play, suspensions are inevitable.
Exception: Bounties are perfectly acceptable if the person upon whom the bounty is placed is guilty of either #1 or #2 on our list. Such was the case of Riley Cooper who, over the weekend, had a bounty placed on his head by Marcus Vick, brother of Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick.
3. Animal abuse
Speaking of Michael Vick, animal abuse ranks very high on our list of Deadly Sins. It’s forgivable, but just barely. As noted above, it’s better to hit a man with your car while driving intoxicated than to electrocute a dog.
There doesn’t seem to be an anti-manslaughter lobby, but animals are well represented. Expect this athlete to get 3-5 years in the state pen.
2. Racial slurs
The best advice we can give? Trade him before the video goes viral or before Al Sharpton holds a press conference.
(See: Riley Cooper. But my guess is, you already have.)
As Pete Rose, Art Schlichter, and the 1919 Black Sox scandals have shown, this is the one sin a player cannot commit. Ever. If your draftee has a bookie, you have a problem.
There is, of course, a much larger point here and it is one that goes well beyond fantasy leagues.
Consequences for criminal conduct or cheating — they aren’t always the same thing — seems to have less to do with the actual deed done than with the degree of public outrage.
Indeed, in the professional ranks, commissioners dole out punishment like Roman emperors: thumbs up or thumbs down depending on the roar of the mob.
How can one justify a lifetime ban for Pete Rose, for instance, who neither bet on his own team nor gained any competitive advantage in the sport, while A-Rod, whose whole career may have been aided by the use of PEDs, gets a 211-game suspension (if he loses his appeal)?
How is it that wife-beaters and murderers seem to have better prospects than Riley Cooper, who, after his undeniably racist remark at a Kenny Chesney concert was caught on video, has been (justifiably) reprimanded, fined, required to undergo sensitivity training, dismissed from practice, and, now, according to ESPN, may be dismissed from the team altogether?
The answer is that the court of public opinion is a great deal more outraged by Cooper’s idiotic remarks than it is by Donte’ Stallworth’s criminal actions: a DUI manslaughter conviction in the 2009 death of Mario Reyes.
Incidentally, Mario Reyes, a construction worker, couldn’t afford a car. Stallworth, who was driving a Bentley, struck him when he crossed the road to catch the bus after working an all-nighter.
Stallworth plays for the Washington Redskins. He makes $840,000 a year.
We have lost all sense of proportion.
Larry Alex Taunton is the executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation and author of “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief.” The views expressed in this column belong to Taunton.
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