The excitement of many sporting events, however socially unacceptable it may be to admit, continues to be the violent competition that arises between the athletes and the display of force that comes from hours and hours of nonstop strength training and articulate movements across the playing field. In fact, some sports, such as hockey, are so notorious for these acts of violence that many of the spectators feel a sense of disappointment if they do not witness such a spectacle. However, off the court, these very same actions would be considered criminal behaviors and would likely lead to imprisonment or fines for the athlete. It is possible that, knowing the how the celebrity status protects them during play, the athletes use these opportunities to exhibit aggression or to intentionally harm one another due to the exaggerated competition. Yet, the burden of proof for such intentional actions would be far too heavy for an average referee to detect. Therefore, regardless of the few cases whereas these actions could be considered criminal, this author feels that the athletes, while performing the art of their sport, should not be held accountable for the appearance of violence as the sport requires physical contact, it would be difficult to prove intent, and the fear of prosecution would likely hinder the players’ abilities to excel in their sport.
First of all, nearly all sports require some form of contact and, with that contact, comes the risk of injury. In fact, Voelker explains that the risk of injury is so great that there is an entire portion of the insurance industry that is tied directly to contact sports. Noting that these injuries range from falls to concussions and often even more serious injuries, Voelker states that the contact insurance industry sees “stable claim activity and ample capacity” (47). In other words, the risks of injury is well documented and the presence of such a flourishing insurance industry suggests that the players are well aware of these risks. Sports writer, Standen, calls this collective understanding a legal consent whereas “consent can also, more commonly, refer to the automatic ‘presumed consent’ that a participant impliedly gives upon agreeing to play a particular sport” (621). This means that the players are all aware of the potential for harm and have weighed the benefits against these risks. This had led them to making an informed decision whereas they have chosen to put themselves into a contact sport.
Secondly, as it has been made clear that the players are aware of the risks and have consented to participate despite these risks, a resulting injury would appear to be a part of the contact sport rather than an intentional act of violence. In a discussion of criminalizing violence in sports, researcher, Standen, provided an example from 1976 whereas a similar case was present as People vs. Freer. In the case, Standen explains that “a defensive player punched the ball carrier while tackling him” (626). This initial punch was found to be fair through the concept of consent. However, “after the rough tackle, as the play drew to a close, the ball carrier punched the tackler back” (Standen 626). The court found that the second punch was an intentional act of violence and ruled against the ball carrier. The concern with this finding is that it is not possible to determine the intention of the first punch and therefore one cannot know if the ball carrier was acting in self-defense or anger. The evidence, despite the millions of spectators and witnesses, became lost amidst the action of the sport.
Finally, the threat of prosecution would hinder the abilities of the athletes to pursue a win in a contact sport. In the case discussed by Standen, the defensive player was, assumedly, playing the game and making the tackle without a notion of violence. He successfully made the tackle, awed the fans, and earned revenue for the team’s owners. If he had of known that the tackle could put him in jail, he most likely would have avoided the play. The fear of imprisonment is far more drastic than the fear of monetary fines for misconduct or playing too rough as journalist, Lapchick discusses the case where “Mike Tyson had his boxing license revoked and was fined $3 million for biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a 1997 title fight, but no criminal charges were filed” (1). This shows that, yes, the athletes should be punished for going too far in their sports, but criminalizing these individuals who are paid to be aggressive for doing just that, would be the same as punishing a child for taking too many cookies out of the jar out of their pure excitement in the moment.
While it is not only possible, but probable, that some athletes take advantage of the legal consent in contact sports, this is not considered to be the majority of the players. In fact, most injuries occur out of accident or over exertion during the excitement of the moment. It is clear that the athletes are aware of the risk and it is nearly impossible to establish intent of violence when watching a contact sport. Furthermore, the athletes would not be able to perform if they were at risk of being imprisoned for playing the sport. Monetary fines for misconduct serve for other issues during play and should suffice for accusations of violence as well. In sum, the athletes should not be criminalized for contact in a contact sport whereas all players have given consent, the burden of proof of intent is too great, and the threat of criminalization would hinder their abilities to perform.
- Lapchick, Richard. “When sports violence is a criminal act. (cover story).” Christian Science Monitor 28 Feb. 2000: 1. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
- Standen, Jeffrey. “The Manly Sports: The Problematic Use Of Criminal Law To Regulate Sports Violence.” Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology 99.3 (2009): 619. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
- Voelker, Michael P. “Get In The Game.” Property & Casualty 360 118.6 (2014): 42. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.