Sometimes The Violence Of The Playing Field Seeps Out Into Society’s Field As Well

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 17, 2005

Former University of Missouri standout Ricky Clemons has been involved with the law but he is not the only athlete who is having problems in our society.

SAN ANTONIO – It’s troubling to hear what happened to Barrett Robbins over the weekend but it really doesn’t surprise me that something like that has happened to him. In case many have not heard the news, a Miami Beach officer who was investigating a burglary shot the former Oakland Raider offensive lineman several times in the torso. The injuries were sustained when Robbins was struggling with the officer and according to reports, “The officer was literally fighting for his life, trying to get Mr. Robbins from getting his gun. That’s when the shots rang out.” It’s a tragic situation and it seems that Robbins is quickly on the down slope of possibly becoming another statistic if former athletes not being able to handle the rigors of everyday life outside of the game. It’s tragic because it seems that nobody has prepared these young men on how to be like the ‘rest of us’ and to have normal lives. That is the tragedy but it definitely isn’t going to be the last story we hear in 2005.

VIOLENCE, CRIME AND ATHLETES JUST SEEMS TO PREVAIL It seems that violence and athletes just naturally goes together in our society. How many remember Brian and Bennie Blades? Remember the manslaughter case that Brian faced several years ago? Even Bennie has had some legal issues as back in 2003 he was arrested for being a deadbeat dad. But the manslaughter trial just stands out. How about Rae Carruth? Now there’s the life of a little known NFL player who had gotten beside himself and thought that a little bit of cash and an ill-conceived murder plot would free him of his problems. I could go on and on with a list from Ray Lewis’ manslaughter trial in Atlanta to incidents that have involved college athletes. The list is just endless.

When I was researching information for this story, I came across an interesting article. Richard E. Lapchick wrote an opinion piece that was published in the Sports Business Journal entitled “Race, Athletes, and Crime” and in his piece he wrote “In a nation which prides itself on the fairness of our court system, I am not sure that the public presumes innocence when it comes to athletes being accused of crimes. On the contrary, the opposite seems to be the case. I am concerned about what some writers in the media and the public is doing with our athletes, especially African-American athletes. Perhaps unwittingly, I believe they are reinforcing racial stereotypes that too much of polite and politically correct white society still embrace but no longer verbalize.” Is this true? Is the media, including myself, unwittingly writing stories that expound that African American athletes commit more crimes? Maybe they are and maybe they are not. I can only speak for myself on this issue. You have to realize that race is going to be an integral part of just about anything that is related to sports these days, including this topic. There is probably a large disparity in the reporting between when a white athlete commits a crime and when a Black athlete commits a same or similar crime. There is no doubt that there may be a biasness in touting the ill fates of Black athletes by the mainstream press more than they would the white athlete and undoubtedly the mainstream press would rather talk about what those Black athletes did as opposed to what a white athlete may have done. Some may even say that because I write for several publications that cater to the Black community that I am adding to the situation and clouding the issue; that instead trying to remedy this issue by reporting on favorable situations, I am instead always harping on the negatives. In some cases that stance may indeed be on point but what many should realize is that we are talking about an issue of athletes and crime. The criminal element is very much a part of the Black society and it is not just dummying down a situation and saying, “there goes another Black athlete screwing things up.” The reality of the situation is that even in Lapchick’s article, race does play a large deal in many of these stories but we have some serious problems of former or current athletes not being able to be good citizens and they are on both sides of the color line.

When it comes to violent crime and athletes, these stories are so prevalent that there have been studies on them. In 2001, Ohio University did a study on domestic violence and athletes. In the article entitled “Researchers say some athletes prone to domestic violence due to aggressiveness, socialization”, the authors of the study wrote: “an athlete’s celebrity status and peer group influence an athlete’s aggressive feelings and violent tendencies. Celebrity among athletes begins in high school and continues through college and sometimes into professional leagues.” In the study, the authors go on to say that those athletes who play in aggressive sports surround themselves with other athletes of a like mindset. In the case of domestic violence, the authors theoretically surmised that when it came to domestic violence and women, sports such as football and basketball tended to lead the charge for such crimes to take place amongst a peer group because of the glorification of conquering a woman and making her subject to the athlete’s every want and need.

“You can’t paint all athletes with the same brush,” Ohio University Walter DeKeseredy said in the piece that ran in the college paper in 2001. “There are certain sports that celebrate the conquest of women. Football is one of them, basketball is one of them and rugby is one of them. It’s not all men; it’s particular groups of men.”

Now while that may or may not hold true for athletes and domestic violence, what about other crimes such as burglary, manslaughter and drug possessions where the violence escalates? Why is it that so many athletes, no matter what their color or ethnicity may be, are more inclined to fall into those three criminal acts? It is hard to pinpoint any one reason why these three junctures of the criminal element are so prevalent with athletes. I can only surmise in my own unofficial studies on the subject that it is possible that while domestic violence may lead the charge in court cases involving athletes, it has to be the fact that money and the environment for some athletes plays a pivotal role in them being caught up in the other three areas. Now is that indictment into saying that a majority of the black athletes are going to be caught up in drug possessions or manslaughter and the white athletes are going to be like Robbins? No it’s not. What I am saying is that I have no idea why stories of burglary, drug possession and/or manslaughter/murder cases involving athletes are becoming more common than that of domestic violence. Don’t misunderstand what’s being written here though. All four of these criminal elements are very much a pervasive resident of our society in regards to athletes and there are no true answers to the situation right now.

THE EDUCATION PROCESS MUST CONTINUE The violence that seeps out from the playing field and into society by these athletes is an area where I would hope that there are those in the field of player personnel, management or union representation would take a serious look at. On the college level, I would hope that with all of these studies that are being produced, the NCAA is seriously looking at trying to develop a program that helps these athletes be aggressive on the field only and help them cope with their anger management issues off of the field. It’s a tall order I know and nobody has really taken a stance on anything that could help curtail the reports that are coming across our newscasts every day. We have all read about how unions like the NFL and MLB are trying to implement programs to help athletes make a smooth transition into regular society. In reality just how successful are these programs? They can’t be that successful if we have a former NFL player critically injured by a police officer because he was fighting with said officer. Evidently the transition programs cannot be all that successful when you still have former athletes like a Nate Newton be in trouble with the law. The problem just doesn’t go away that easily and no amount of money or well intentioned consultants can say it will.

On the amateur level, there needs to an educational process that educates these young men on the dangers of off the field issues and what their ramifications of future success may entail. I never will forget how I had some readers become almost belligerent when I said that Maurice Clarrett may not succeed at the pro level because he had no sense of worth or ‘dignity’ of being an athlete when it came to dealing with every day issues. Some readers thought I was “Uncle Tomming” my way onto somebody’s talk show. Look at the reality of the situation at hand. Where is Clarrett to this day? Has he successfully been able to make his case of being possibily the first kid to jump college after just one season? Clarrett isn’t the only athlete who has been given a free ride throughout his life. You can go down the list of athletes in your own backyard who think they are above everyone else and it is that attitude that leads them to the blotter pages.

When we talk about the violence that surrounds an athlete days, what are we really talking about and are we educating ourselves and the public on the issues at hand? What disservice are we doing to the young men who are in middle school and high school by not educating them on the issues of anger management and how it can relate to them dealing with their friends and family? How are we educating any of these athletes on the dangers of being mixed up with drugs and how those troubles could possibly end any future you may have later on? Are we proactively preparing and equipping players to face the realities of when their playing days are done, that they have to be prepared to let the spotlight shine elsewhere and they just fade into the annals of cheers gone by? Just what are we doing as a society, either as a whole or in it’s ethnical parts thereof, doing to ensure that these young men are prepared for life after the game? Right now I say absolutely nothing.

There are no true answers to any of the questions I proposed in this piece or in any questions that may arise from just reading about the subject matter. As a society, we are not equipped to ensure that this population of our society is prepared to assimilate themselves after their playing days. It is almost as if we are trying assimilate them from a prison sentence when in essence, we probably are. The analogy may not sit well with some folk but let’s be honest in what we are dealing with here. There is some serious issues of violence that takes place with athletes in our society and we have not adequately found a way to make sure that these gladiators have the proper mental equipment to deal with issues outside of their sports. We must not be doing a good job if we have players like Robbins committing a crime just two years removed from being on a Superbowl team. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed and it something that continues to be long overdue in some circles.

WRITER’S NOTES: The plight of domestic violence is as serious a crime as anything else we have discussed in recent months. I implore you to read about it and you can begin with the Ohio University article that I referenced above at Also read Mr. Lapchick’s piece as well. I think you will find it thought provoking. His article, also mentioned in this piece, is located at