CBS and Sports Illustrated have just released the results of a “groundbreaking” investigation into the criminal backgrounds of college football players and found that roughly 7% of all the players on the preseason Top 25 rosters had criminal records.Our reaction: So what?
The numbers sound shocking — reporter Armen Keteyian said on “The Early Show” today that it was “game changing” — and we’ve all heard the numerous tales of athletes doing terrible things. But the story lacks so much context it’s not possible to form any real judgments.
For example, not everyone who is charged or cited with a crime is guilty of that crime. Also, how do these figures match up with the rest of the population? It might actually be far less than the public at large.
Also, juvenile records are often sealed for a reason — so that what you did as a kid doesn’t ruin your future as an adult.
SI says the real issue is that it’s easy to check criminal backgrounds, but no one does. The implication being that teams and schools would rather look the other way “out of a desire to win.”
To which we say to CBS, “Two words: Charlie Sheen.”
The truth is that digging up the past of every player may keep a few bad apples off campus and avoid some of the horror stories like those cited in the magazine. But that won’t eliminate troublemakers. Of the players who now have criminal records, how many were clean before they got to campus? The story doesn’t say.
More importantly: How many had criminal records, but have stayed out of trouble since getting their scholarship? One of the great virtues that is often cited about college sports is its ability to turn lives around. Give people second chances. Help troubled kids from troubled backgrounds rise above their circumstances to create a better life. The true judge of a school’s integrity is not who it keeps off campus, but how it treats people once they are there. That’s when you know who is more interested in wins than helping people.
The shaming and ostracizing of young athletes that would come from constant background checks and (possible) automatic disqualifications would be totally counterproductive to mission of sports and education. Yes, schools could probably do more to ensure that their scholarship athletes are decent people who aren’t likely to hurt others, but a simple criminal background check is not the answer to that. (It might help cover their liability, but that doesn’t help people.)
However, if CBS insists that it is the answer, then we have a suggestion about who can arrange and pay for all that research: CBS. Or maybe, since they don’t seem to have any qualms about broadcasting games with all these troubled athletes (and selling ads during those games), putting criminals on TV isn’t as big a deal as putting them on scholarship.
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