The recent news about the arrest of Baylor basketball player LaceDarius Dunn on a domestic-violence charge focused on what happened and when (if ever) he will be able to return to the Bears lineup.
The follow-up story is likely to be renewed attention on the issue of athlete violence. ESPN’s Dana O’Neil produced a quality examination of the issue yesterday.
In case you missed it, Dunn was arrested Oct. 5 after a Sept. 27 incident. The attorney for his long-time girlfriend told Yahoo! sports that she suffered a fractured jaw after she was struck in the face but that she did not want to file charges. The local police eventually arrested Dunn anyway. Baylor coach Scott Drew suspended Dunn indefinitely after news of the arrest broke. On Oct. 6, various media reported that the young woman issued a statement denying that Dunn struck her and that her jaw was broken. Dunn reportedly was suspended from school in the days following the incident but now appears to be back in class after action by a university judicial body.
The Dunn matter was the latest to raise questions about athlete violence (the O’Neil piece lists others). The worst case played out last spring when Virginia women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love was killed and her former boyfriend, a Virginia men’s lacrosse player, was charged with her murder.
The NCAA’s Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Committee had made a commitment to look at issues surrounding athlete violence before the Dunn incident, and although eyes no doubt roll at the thought of a “committee examination,” it is the most ordered way for experts to evaluate and address the problem.
It should be obvious that no responsible person affiliated with college sports condones violent behavior. The trick in dealing with this on a macro basis is in determining whether athletes are somehow uniquely violent. Some studies suggest that may be so, but they raise more questions about which athletes we’re talking about and why they may be violence-prone.
Over time, various studies have postulated that athletes are less ethical than other populations, and hardly a day goes by that their collective academic ability isn’t called into question. Now we again face the question of violence.
Put it all together and what emerges is a distorted image of student-athletes. In fact, the vast majority of them are young people who have special physical gifts but who have the same goals and concerns as other college students. A few of them are undeniably privileged because of their athletic gifts, and more than a few feel stress in their lives, perhaps owing to their over-achieving ways. Others have difficult backgrounds that may adversely affect their behavior.
But describing them broadly is simply impossible. They are men and women, black and white, rich and poor. Depending on their level, their athletic abilities range from professional quality to not much more than intramural. What they expect from their athletic experience is all over the lot. Any observer should be careful about applying overly broad conclusions about “athletes,” either positively or negatively.
New NCAA President Mark Emmert talked about the topic with ESPN’s O’Neil.
“Ideally this is something that happens at the university level, where there is a much greater familiarity with the individual situation,” Emmert said. “But on the other hand, at the national level we have to have serious conversations to see if we can find a way to send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated…I would describe it as just in the talking stage right now, but it’s something we’d like to move on quickly. We’ve done a great job in terms of educating and working on alcohol abuse and drug abuse. We haven’t done everything we can in regards to domestic violence and we absolutely have to. One incident is one too many.”
The NCAA can’t make a rule that stops violent behavior, but it certainly can facilitate an effective examination of the issue, help with education and assess how to deal with offenders.
The last part is where things get tricky.
What do you think? What role should the NCAA play when it comes to dealing with student-athletes who are accused of criminal conduct? Are such matters best dealt with by institutions and conferences or should the NCAA itself be involved? Is it appropriate to suspend someone who is accused by not yet convicted? Is there a difference in this discussion between felony charges and misdemeanors?