We live in a country that prides itself on cute little slogans. One that is applied to our court systems is "innocent until proven guilty."
This line is meant to demonstrate our legal system and that one must provide evidence—irrefutable evidence—that someone broke the laws of our country and prove beyond all doubts that this person committed a crime.
In other words, there exists an assumption of innocence (although the "guilty/not guilty" plea rather than "innocent/not innocent" is somewhat odd).
But that is the legal system of the United States of America. In the court of public opinion, the tag line is "guilty until proven innocent"—and to many people, unfortunately, this is the only court that matters.
Before I list some players, let me be clear that I am not attempting to exonerate any of these players.
O.J. Simpson rounded up a great group of lawyers and was acquitted in criminal court of the murder of his wife and her "friend." Yet, public opinion found him guilty of those crimes (and a civil court found him liable).
Kate Faber accused Kobe Bryant first of rape, then of sexual assault. That criminal case never came to trial, although a settlement was reached in a civil case. Despite not being found guilty of a crime, the court of public opinion continues to judge him negatively on that incident (cheating on his wife does not help either).
In 2006, three Duke lacrosse players were accused of raping a young woman. The North Carolina District Attorney, Mike Nifong, went as far as labeling the incident a "hate crime" (the young woman was black, while the three accused players were white).
In the end, the accusations turned out to be false, but that did not stop public opinion at the time from condemning the players.
Despite the fact that there is no actual evidence from identified sources, the verdict in the court of public opinion seems to be "guilty."
Guilty, guilty, guilty!!! Whatever happened to due process? While some people worry about "activist judges" on the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears we have many "activist judges" in the court of public opinion.
Let's be clear on another matter. I am not a fan of Alex Rodriguez, nor am I a fan of the New York Yankees. But the point is that we too often rush to judgment and criminalize someone before all of the facts are out.
But what are the reasons (or reason) that we force people, particularly those "high-profile" individuals, to prove that they are innocent rather than us (or an investigator) proving that they are guilty? Why is the onus placed on the accused?
Is it because of a history of wrongdoing?
Well, before O.J. was accused of murder, he was a well-loved guy, playing a bumbling police officer in the Naked Gun series (watch out for that bear trap!!!).
Kobe had no (reported) history of choking random women in hotel rooms. Previous to the steroid allegations, A-Rod was considered one of the clean players. The Duke lacrosse team...well...
Is it jealousy of star athletes? Well, the Duke lacrosse players were not well-known outside of the lacrosse world. But Kobe Bryant and A-Rod are both polarizing figures that fans of other teams love to hate—so beyond Laker and Yankee fans, it is easy to quickly find these guys guilty.
Or is it something else? Is it that we like to see failure? We like to see that someone else also makes mistakes.
We like to see that, yes, the world's best athletes are indeed human. They make mistakes and are not perfect. The higher the profile of the accused athlete, the more coverage it receives, and the more vindicated we feel.
It is why Juan Rincon's 2005 drug suspension was merely a blip on the sports radar, while Manny Ramirez's suspension will be a topic for many weeks to come. Bad news makes us common mortals feel more human.
Now we see the same rush to a guilty verdict for Manny Ramirez. While some have obviously stepped up and defended Manny, others have not only criminalized Manny but have also begun to label all players guilty by association.
Keep in mind that Ramirez was not punished for taking steroids, but for taking something that contained a banned substance (human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG). And it is quite possible that Ramirez is taking HCG because of a truly personal problem.
But certain "experts" have stepped up and demonstrated a logical connection between taking HCG and steroids. One such expert noted that it is used to counter certain post-steroid side effects. That "expert" is none other than the upstanding Jose Canseco.
Jose Canseco? It is amazing that Jose Canseco—a guy who seems to bathe in the glory of his dirtiness—is more believed than Ramirez. But then again, many of the things that Canseco has stated have appeared true. There is a reason that Dan Patrick is attempting to interview the guy.
But are we going to now talk to convicted murderers in order to figure out if Phillip Markoff is really the so-called Craigslist Killer? This is not The Silence of the Lambs, but it is beginning to look like it.
Just like Dr. Hannibal Lecter returning to crime at the end of the film, Canseco is still involved with substances related to steroids.
In the cases involving steroids, Canseco seems to be the prosecuting attorney in the court of public opinion. But where is that figure in the pitch-tipping scandal?
Maybe that person is still playing. Maybe that person is someone we would least expect. Maybe that person is Derek Jeter!
Or maybe not (and no, I am NOT accusing Jeter of being involved). But given the rampant guilty by association verdicts that are spreading because of steroids, I am not surprised that names have not surfaced.
This has nothing to do with the fact that Selena Roberts is the one reporting this "crime." I do understand that if others are involved, they are not going to just come out and say that they were involved.
If the pitch-tipping is true, it is an offense that should receive the "baseball death penalty" (i.e. banned for life), and no player wants that.
Again, the problem is we are too quick to judge. It does not help that the media loves bad news, and that people feed off of it.
It is easier to accuse someone of a "crime" and have them prove their innocence than it is for the public to collect evidence and prove the accused's guilt.
Guilty until proven innocent is the slogan of public opinion—and unfortunately for most people, it is the only verdict that matters.