It has been months since the world first witnessed the harrowing video of Ray Rice hitting Janay Rice in an elevator. That incident, however far in the past it might be, still lingers over the world of professional sports today.
Well, maybe not the incident itself. Perhaps it’s better to say that the manner in
which that situation was handled still lingers over the sports world. We know that
NFL Commissioner Goodell and company botched their investigation of the elevator
incident, and it is becoming more and more evident that other pro sports leagues
are terrified of doing the same.
Take NASCAR for instance. Commissioner David Jones suspended driver Kurt Busch
“indefinitely” last week after Busch’s ex-wife Patricia Driscoll accused the driver of
domestic abuse. An incident that occurred on Sept. 26, 2014 caused a family
court in Delaware to issue “an order of protection” mandating Busch stay away from
Driscoll. The court’s reasoning? Busch’s testimony (Busch cupped Driscoll’s mouth
and asked her to leave his motorhome) was “simply implausible.”
A restraining order, which is more or less what the court issued, is one thing, but
taking that as a burden of guilt is a completely different thing. Commissioner Jones
and NASCAR failed to see the difference. Jones suspended Busch immediately
following the Delaware decision despite the fact that no criminal or civil charges had
ever been levied against the driver. Why is that? Simple. In the pro sports world of
2015, guilty until proven innocent is the new standard.
Busch, who has 25 career Sprint Cup victories and one championship, may be done
racing forever. If Busch committed the alleged crimes then he deserves to be
punished to the full extent, but what if he didn’t? What if he’s innocent? That
question may have been answered a year ago, but after the Ray Rice saga, the guilt is
presumed long before the question of innocence is ever asked.
Gil Wagner, a Busch fan from Illinois told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports that “NASCAR
is overstepping their bounds” by suspending Busch despite a conviction of guilt.
Wagner went on to say that “because the NFL dropped the ball so badly on Ray Rice,
Kurt Busch is going to be made an example of.” I tend to agree.
No longer in sports does the average fan assume innocence. I can certainly see why.
The likes of Aaron Hernandez, Alex Rodriguez, and Ray Rice have made it hard to do
- But Busch is different. No charges were filed. Thus, Busch has no crime to legally
pay for. However, ‘legally’ is a funny word in sports these days. Instead of waiting
until the investigation was complete or even truly begun, NASCAR played it safe, and
suspended its driver on the grounds of mere accusations. He may be guilty, he may
be innocent, but NASCAR ain’t takin’ no chances.
Professional sports are walking on thin ice by assuming guilt more often than not
these days. Since Rice was assumed innocent, until proven guilty, the sports world
has been scared to allow such judicial processes to occur again. It is clear actions
such as Jones suspending Busch are now the norm, and it has everything to do with
image, and nothing to do with justice.
Patricia Driscoll was on a media rampage last week giving interviews with multiple
national outlets and generally just causing a scene to give her side of the story. Then,
only a few days later, NASCAR suspends Busch. Make no mistake: that isn’t
coincidence. NASCAR didn’t want to deal with this kind of exposure, they couldn’t
take that Goodell-like risk. David Jones and NASCAR didn’t wait to suspend Busch.
Zero criminal charges, plus zero civil charges, equals indefinite suspension; so is the
disciplinary math of professional sports. Botched incident after botched incident
have caused overcorrection on the part of sports leagues and people like Busch are
paying for it. If he’s guilty, make him pay. If he’s not, let him play. But for god sakes
man, shouldn’t we at least know which one he is? NASCAR has made its mind up;
sadly, we may soon have no choice but to blindly join them.