We’re not surprised anymore, which may be the most damning acknowledgment.
We already assume the outcome, only shocked when justice is finally served, numb to the failures of our criminal and judicial systems, which tend to turn color blind eyes toward the accused, who just so happen to be able to jump, hit, or run.
Oscar Pistorius isn’t a free man today, but he has been cleared of the premeditated murder and murder charges he faced in a South Africa court. Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the 27-year-old double-amputee Olympic athlete is guilty of the premeditated murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius argues that he mistook his model girlfriend for an intruder when he shot and killed her last Valentine’s Day.
Masipa will rule later Thursday on a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a conviction which could still lead to years in prison.
“Viewed in its totality, the evidence failed to establish that the accused had the requisite intention to kill the deceased, let alone with premeditation,” Masipa said. “The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder.”
We only hope those words heed warning for what’s going to transpire in Bristol Superior Court come January.
That will be the first of two murder trials for Aaron Hernandez, the second coming in May with charges stemming from the alleged double homicide in Boston in 2012. It’s up to prosecutors to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the former Patriots tight end pulled the trigger that shot and killed Odin Lloyd in an Attleboro industrial park last year.
Do we have faith that Hernandez will be found guilty? Should we dare?
Even in a week when domestic abuse in the NFL made headlines for all the wrong reasons, defensive ends Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy will suit up for the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers, respectively, with accusations of beating women tied to their names. Meanwhile, Ray Rice is out of a job after the Baltimore Ravens cut the running back earlier this week, a process that would not have come to fruition had a tape that showed him leveling Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator not come to light. The NFL, which subsequently suspended Rice for an undetermined amount of time, wants its fans to understand that the league views one case of domestic violence, as Roger Goodell opined, is enough, And yet, McDonald and Hardy will play this weekend just because there isn’t any incriminating evidence on tape.
Let’s not forget either, that while Rice may never play football again, he escaped criminal charges in New Jersey, where a man of lesser stature may be facing jail time for hitting a woman, no matter how vigorously she pleads in his defense.
Why? From O.J. Simpson to Ray Lewis to Pistorius, the sports we follow are filled with players, quite literally, getting away with murder as well as dozens of other criminal charges that usually disappear as quickly as Joey Galloway’s Patriots résumé. USA Today’s NFL player arrests database has a record of 713 incidents since 2000. That’s an average of almost 51 arrests or warrants each year over 14 years, many of which are minor in nature, many of which are not, including 89 cases of domestic violence, almost 13 percent of all cases on record.
Even at the rate with which athletes find themselves in trouble with the law, the culpability for those actions is increasingly lacking. At the root of the problem is that financial situations the stars head to court with in their pockets. Take the case of Donte Stallworth, the former Patriots wide receiver who killed 59-year-old Mario Reyes while driving home under the influence in 2009. Stallworth paid off the victim’s family and served a measly 30 days in jail for the incident. He now does a new political column for the Huffington Post, and was just recently seen palling away on the sidelines with Comcast New England prior to last Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game in Miami. By all accounts, Stallworth is a great guy, so magnanimous in fact that everybody would just assume forget that he killed a man, a crime for which the average person would likely still be serving a sentence.
Think about that for a moment. Michael Vick spent 548 days in prison for running an illegal dog fighting ring. Stallworth did a month.
“It’s no wonder the “Blade Runner” is confident. Rich athletes don’t go to prison for homicide — unless you kill a dog,” Florida Today’s John A. Torres wrote about Pistorius earlier this year. “Maybe South Africa will prove to be the place where murderers — even athletes with rock-star nicknames still considered heroes — are forced to pay for their crimes.”
If the NFL truly thinks it can affect a change in its violent, off-field culture, all the power to them, though such a goal seems foolhardy even for an entity as powerful as the NFL. Rich athletes bring with them enormous egos, bred both from a confidence standpoint needed to excel in their specific sports, as well as an offshoot of fame and fortune. Somewhere along the way the feeling of being above the law takes root, and some members of society, erroneously feeling like we know the athletes involved, tend to defend, much like the Ravens with Ray Rice.
But we don’t know these people. We know nothing about the professional athletes we watch for our own recreation. Hernandez was portrayed as a jovial guy too, a reminder of how sickeningly the Baltimore organization rose to Rice’s defense because he was a “good guy.”
Pistorius isn’t the first famous athlete to slide by, nor will he, regrettably, be the last. Why should we be surprised any longer?
Money equals freedom. And justice for none.