At 10 a.m. on Oct. 3, 1995, a jury declared that former football star O.J. Simpson was not guilty of killing his ex-wife and best friend. Much of America was outraged by the verdict, saying that he was given special treatment for his athletic title. If Simpson had not been a famous professional athlete, he would have been subject to more than paying $33 million in grievances. Palo Alto High School’s Athletic Director Jason Fung does not think that Simpson’s star factor had anything to do with the outcome during the trial and that justice will overcome any prejudices or bias.
“I think everyone has their day in court and depending on what evidence is there is really what we have to stand on as a justice system,” Fung said. “I don’t believe that the star factor has anything to do with trials. I’m sure the judge in that courtroom could care less.”
Another scandal involved Michael Vick, who was charged with taking part in dogfighting in 2007. Instead of paying fines like Simpson, Vick served a 23-month sentence and paid $1 million for the injured dogs. The NFL recognized the actions of Vick and punished him for being a “partner” in the dogfighting ring and killing nine dogs. As the 21st century progresses, people care less about the athlete’s personalities and more about his or her actions and due punishments.
On Valentine’s day in 2013, Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. From the evidence against Pistorius, he was sentenced to five years with the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. People charged with first-degree murder get a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Pistorius was treated as an exception above the law for being a professional athlete, and his lawyers later stated that he would be eligible for parole after 14-months. People feel uncomfortable living with murder, so why would it make a difference with a professional athlete? Fung says people are well aware of the situation at hand and have resigned themselves to the fact that as consumers, people are paying for criminals such as Michael Vick to play for a six-year contract for $100 million.
“They all go through the trial process and we all know its not always fair,” Fung said.
Sports in America are taken very seriously with the average NFL team having a net worth of $1.43 billion. Fair justice among professional athletes has been argued since the controversial murder trial of Simpson.
Tight End Patriot Aaron Hernandez was tried for the murder of Hernandez’s friend Odin Lloyd. The NFL had been known to look the other way when a player gets into hot water, but when Hernandez was lead out of his home in handcuffs on June 26, 2013, the Patriots released Hernandez without prior notice 90 minutes later. When Hernandez was arraigned, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL would not approve any future contracts. Fung believes NFL has to make morally controversial decisions in order to keep its net worth.
“The NFL is a big company with a lot riding on it and I’m sure they have to do what is beneficial to the organization,” Fung said.
Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder on April 15, 2015. CNN reported that Hernandez walked into the trial with “a swaggering entrance, flashing a trademark Hollywood smile… joking with his lawyers,” which could imply that Hernandez was confident that he would get away with murder, regardless of the outstanding evidence.
“I don’t feel they think they can get away with it but more importantly a lot of them are still young and the pressures of success and fame change one to believe [their] ‘sh*t don’t stink,’” Fung said.
The quality of judgement during trials has been questioned recently as people start to comprehend the injustice of the court process. Simpson paid grievances for the brutal murders of his ex-wife and friend. He escaped jail time and made hundreds of thousands of dollars from his book “If I Did It,” a memoir in which he confesses towards the “hypothetical situation.” Oscar Pistorius is an internationally known athlete with prosthetics from the knee down so may have had a more sympathetic jury. After receiving his sentence, Pistorius’ lawyers said that he would be on parole after a year. The famous sprinter is a international celebrity who should have been given at least 20 years instead of five.
Our justice system should hereafter hold professional athletes and international leagues to an equal if not higher standard than everyone else. Famous athletes are seen as role models to many future athletes and fans, and they need represent professional athletes in a positive and respectable outlook instead of assuming that an athlete’s title can excuse them for any crimes.