Local News

Athletes Receive More Penalties in the Game of Life

Posted November 17, 1998

— There is a disturbing trend in college athletics. Penalties are on the rise - not on the playing field - but in society. Athletes are being charged with more crimes than ever before. The big question is why?

Athletes live for the spotlight on the field. However, their personal life is also in the public domain, especially when they slip up in the game of life.

Sports law expert Paul Haagen says the question is, "Why should student athletes be treated differently?"

In the past year, eightUNC footballplayers have been charged with violent crimes. Three were convicted of misdemeanors for a fight outside of a Chapel Hill bar. Two were kicked off the team for failing to perform community service.

In a separate incident, Jon Hall, pleaded no contest to assaulting his girlfriend. He was also suspended. Suddenly, the proud program that was black and Carolina blue has been bruised from a head on collision with justice.

Much like Carolina, severalN.C. State footballplayers ran into trouble a couple of years ago in a short period of time. Are student athletes more likely to break the law than in year's past? The people who buy the tickets think so.

A recentESPNpoll illustrates that point - 82 percent of fans feel athletes these days are committing more criminal acts than 25-years ago. But many experts disagree.

"If we go back to records of the behavior of athletes in the sixties, we would find there was a lot of very bad behavior that was simply hushed up," sports law expert Jim Coleman said.

In the 1990s, the behavior has become much more difficult to cover-up.

"I think recently we've seen a rash of incidents involving more physical conduct like assaults and sexual assaults," Haagen said.

The statistics show that fact is true at the country's perennial basketball and football powerhouses.

Male student athletes are responsible for a shocking 19 percent of sexual assaults and 35 percent of domestic violence incidents on campus despite making up only 3 percent of the student body. But just like statistics in a game, numbers can be deceiving.

"An incident in a dormitory might be overlooked if it involved a college student," Haagen said. "Today, it becomes front page if it involves an athlete."

Whether or not it is fair to treat student athletes differently from their classmates - it happens.

"It's a reality," Coleman said. "They are held to higher standards when we find out."

"There are times when student athletes are held on a higher pedestal or higher standard of conduct," UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour said. "They are representing the institution and that comes with a responsibility."

It is a responsibility both N.C. State and UNC spell out in a strict student athlete code of conduct that says felony run-ins with the law mean immediate suspension from the team.

"I think that young people look at student athletes as role models," Baddour said. "We talk to them about serving in that capacity, and that's not an option."

Duke Universitydoes not have a separate code of conduct for its student athletes. While theNCAAspecifically mentions drug use, gambling and cheating in its 498-page, 2-and-a half pound rules manual, there is no mention of suggested punishment for violent crimes.

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