Front Row: Should pro athletes be allowed to play after being charged with domestic violence?

In this week's edition of Front Row, sports columnist Ajay Atkinson asks if professional athletes should be allowed to play after being charged with domestic violence. (Submitted: Ajay Atkinson)

Domestic violence among professional athletes is not uncommon. This rather disturbing fact continues to be a problem in society. Whether one has been a victim of domestic violence or not, there should be zero tolerance for any such occurrence. Many professional athletes, both past and present, have enjoyed the luxury of being able to continue playing after being charged with domestic violence.

Compared to the civilians who have been charged with domestic violence, professional athletes seem to get off easily. This urges one to contemplate whether there is definite bias regarding how domestic violence is treated when an athlete is included, as opposed to a regular civilian. To put this into perspective, a civilian working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is more likely to lose his job and for a longer period of time than an athlete. This civilian is also more likely to ascertain a prison sentence in comparison to the suspensions and or fines that athletes are more inclined to receive.

Some examples are:

Derek Norris

The all-star catcher Norris was released by the Tampa Bay Rays almost immediately after he was accused of domestic assault by his former fiancée. Norris was accused of choking and verbally assaulting his former fiancée in 2015. Norris was never formally charged and his only punishment came from Major League Baseball in the form of a suspension for the remainder of the 2017 season. Following his suspension, Norris was later signed in December 2017 by the Detroit Tigers and then waived in March 2018.

Justin Cox

In July, 2015, Cox was accused of domestic violence, trespassing and burglary in
Mississippi which was his second domestic violence charge in a span of months. Cox who was then representing the Kansas City Chiefs, was acquitted of domestic violence charge. The NFL did not provide any formal punishment at the time. Cox was later released by the Chiefs.

Steven Wright

Steven Wright was arrested at his home in Nashville in 2017. He was charged with domestic violence against his wife. The charges against him were later retired by Williamson County Court. The MLB suspended him for 15 games and he is still currently playing for Red Sox.

The justice system is placed in the middle of a battle between business and humanitarian perspectives. An athlete’s biggest repercussion after domestic violence is usually the backlash from the media. This prompts the organizers, club owners and sponsors to either suspend or fine the athlete to reduce some of the backlash, rather than have them serve time behind bars like any civilian would.

Being an athlete is not a free pass to normalize domestic violence. The punishment for such act should not be weighed by the amount of revenue that will be lost due to the media coverage or sponsors withdrawing deals. Domestic violence is a degrading act and anyone who is convicted of such should face the full force of the justice system without exemption. Athletes who are found guilty of domestic violence should serve time like a regular civilian would and should face the same consequences, including the loss of their job.

While many might argue that everyone deserves a second chance, in this case, any bit of pardon will have to come via the correct channels. This should include the athlete not only serving the required sentence but also going through a series of therapy sessions and psychological evaluation before they are cleared to continue playing. The respective leagues and teams should have a unified contractual agreement on what decisions will be taken should a player be convicted of domestic violence.

The NBA is one of the sports with the highest percentage of athletes who have been charged with domestic violence. It is time to punish the athletes who continue to add to the growing issue of toxic masculinity and those who normalize domestic violence. For this to happen, players need to serve sentences, complete therapy sessions and agree to psychological evaluation.