He’s Free To Do As He Pleases — For Now

By Marcos Bretón
Updated: March 12, 2007

SACRAMENTO — Did it bother you that Ron Artest played Sunday at Arco Arena in a nationally televised game against the Denver Nuggets?

It happened, despite the domestic violence charges filed against him last week and despite the frustration of some fans who see Artest as a symbol of lawlessness in sports.

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty has cleared Artest’s path to the Arco Arena floor, his arraignment is 11 days away, he wants to play.

You’re free to blast him, the Kings or the criminal justice system, but you know what?

Artest deserves to play, deserves to go back to work. Our principles insist on it — principles that trump the sports-fueled opinion mill.

Do you believe that Artest’s presence in Sunday’s game is a slap on the wrist for a millionaire baller? Really, it’s not.

“Until someone has their day in court, they are free to do whatever they do,” said Sgt. Tim Curran, a spokesman for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Curran wasn’t commenting on Artest. He was referring to thousands of domestic violence cases he sees every year.

Understood. A light slap might still graze Artest’s powerful wrists once his case is heard, and his contrition at Saturday’s news conference might still prove hollow.

But let’s wait for that outcome. Let’s at least acknowledge that domestic violence cases are all different and are more complex than the shrill medium of sports talk radio could ever understand.

Saturday, Artest seemed genuinely moved, he shed tears, said all the right things, is being kept away from his family — his fate is still up in the air.

Some might roll their eyes at his expressed love for his family and at his apologies, but he did say something worthwhile.

Asked about returning to the basketball court today, Artest solemnly said that basketball is “the easy part” of his life right now.

He couldn’t be more right because, as his lawyer acknowledged after Artest left the Kings’ practice facility, this man needs years of counseling to make this right.

The overriding object here isn’t for Artest to power the Kings to the playoffs again. It is for Artest to reunite with his wife and kids without future violence.

It was the O.J. Simpson case — a pattern of 911 domestic abuse calls emanating from Simpson’s home until his ex-wife was murdered — that helped lead to a toughening of state domestic abuse laws.

“That was a big turning point,” Curran said.

California law enforcement officers have now been empowered to make arrests based on probable cause. “Up until then, if an officer didn’t witness the abuse, it was tough to make an arrest,” said Beth Hassett, the executive director of WEAVE (Women Escaping a Violent Environment), a nationally known support group providing shelter and assistance for women fleeing abusive relationships.

That’s why Artest was arrested Monday — his victim told authorities he had hit her. Simpson repeatedly brushed aside authorities by claiming his troubles with his now-deceased ex-wife were “a family matter.”

This is not to literally compare Artest with Simpson. That’s not fair. But the truth is, repeated domestic strife replete with 911 calls are more likely to set off alarms among authorities in the wake of Simpson.

Consequently, the 27-year-old Artest faces strife on many fronts and could pay heavily in fines, suspensions and trouble with the Kings if his legal case blows up.

Is that a plea to feel sorry for Artest? No. Are you wrong for condemning Artest simply based on the allegations that he slapped his wife, Kimsha, and prevented her from calling authorities? No.

Was it wrong to cheer for Artest Sunday? Could such cheering be a sign that Kings fans were excusing what he allegedly did?

No. What happens to Artest on the court today has nothing to do with what awaits him at his arraignment March 22.

There is no doubting that Artest’s presence does create an arena full of conflicting emotions for a Kings franchise that is loath to suspend a guy when he hasn’t even been arraigned yet, let alone convicted.

Fans are also caught between their loyalties and the reality that one of their guys is accused of a crime with an infamous past.

What does it mean? That this is beyond the scope of scores and stats. It means you could have booed Artest or cheered him Sunday and not be wrong either way.

It’s life, baby. The important part is what happens when we leave the game and go home.

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