It’s pretty awesome to be a professional athlete. They can seemingly get away with anything. Their near-invincibility is demonstrated in the blissful opportunities that would never fall in the laps of us ordinary citizens.
One day, you’re hanging with some friends when, alarmingly, you point a gun at one of their heads and fire a round away from but next to his ear. You’re arrested on several misdemeanor counts, including assault, menacing and reckless endangerment.
Fortunately, a few days later, Rolando McClain's employer, the Oakland Raiders, forgivingly allowed him to play in their game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. To some surprise, the Raiders did not publicly reprimand McClain, though he has not been formally convicted of anything as of yet. Arraignment is scheduled for January 24th of next year.
Though interpreted as a sign of support and solidarity that was meant to not derail the cohesion of the Oakland Raiders under first-year head coach Hue Jackson, McClain’s non-absence was deemed too lenient by many around the league. Moreover, when regarding anybody’s employee-employer relationship, the generous handling of McClain was simply another unfair example of what it’s like to be a pro athlete.
True, in this instance, McClain has not been judged to have done anything wrong. But that non-guilt belies his innocence. Furthermore, the whole incident itself underlies a problem in the sports world. Even if you are convicted of a crime, don’t worry—you’ll be back at work shortly.
Can you imagine a situation where us civilians have an important upcoming assignment for our respective jobs and neglectfully brandish a gun a few days prior? Think of an advertising executive preparing a sales pitch to a potentially huge client, only to fire a weapon in somebody’s direction a couple days prior to that meeting. Or a lawyer working hard all week on a case, but on one particular day before trial, he shoots a gun toward somebody. Or even an orthopedist who, in advance of an upcoming surgery, wields a gun unsafely in public.
In these examples, it’s hard to interpret how each profession’s employer would react to the criminal activities of their employee. Who knows exactly what would happen in each hypothetical scenario? They may not get fired, per se, but to be sure, they would likely not be allowed to carry out their respective important assignments—and a mere three days later at that.
And that is the difference between professional athletes and those who watch them play at home. When you or I fill out a job application, there is that question to be answered of whether we’ve committed a crime. Assuredly, if the response is "Yes," it’s quite likely—almost certain—that the job offer will be denied with a loud "No."
But professional athletes are immune to this seemingly ordinary, everyday occurrence. For when they reply "Yes," they simply sign a contract and latch onto another employer. Take the Michael Vicks and Plaxico Burresses of the NFL. They’ve nicely found new employers and are currently enjoying the benefits of prosperous professional careers as athletes.
A further look at the NFL rap sheet shows that 45 players have been arrested in the 2011 calendar year. Everything from minor traffic violations to as serious as felony battery or firing a loaded weapon. And to be sure, the majority of these athletes are back to work—business as usual.
The Oakland Raiders alone have had four members of their squad arrested this year. Arrested. Not cited for speeding. Not cited for public intoxication. Arrested.
And nary a visible punishment.
Coach Jackson is in a tough position—having to execute his vision of being the dominant team that he wants the Raiders to become, while simultaneously captaining one of the more dangerous and rebellious pirate ships in the league. Personality-wise, the Raiders have always lived up to their outlaw reputation. And this season is no different. McClain’s run-in with the law further proves this much.
However, what separates McClain from the ordinary average Joes is his ability to continue playing football—all the while continuing to earn millions of dollars.
Jackson needed to discipline his linebacker. He needed to show that McClain is neither above the law nor above the team. The nonchalant manner in which McClain is seen being handcuffed demonstrates his confidence that the matter would not be a big deal, but it also illustrates his confidence that he’d be back at work on Sunday against Miami in no time.
Yet Oakland management should have implored Jackson to sit him.
Truly, what distances the civilians from the professional athletes isn’t necessarily the players themselves. It’s the turning of the other cheek by their employers. No doubt, it would be hard for us to be back at work so soon.