Commenter Chris Bell offers what I think is a compelling (if not totally convincing) defense of the idea that sports leagues should follow the league of the courts and hand down punishments after athletes have been convicted:
I think what both sports leagues and fans SHOULD do (especially sports leagues) is abide by that same principle because there is a very strong argument to do so. Essentially, I know there is a difference between losing freedom and reputation, but both matter, and a proper method of justice should be universally applied to penalties in both. In a perfect world, this is how it would work.
In some ways, it is harder for me to advocate this argument for fans, because we aren’t necessarily in a great position to figure out all the facts, and have to go off the media and the decisions of the courts, as well as the penalties decided by the commissioner of the sport. But in my mind, the Front Office should defer to the courts, or at least have a much more consistent public procedure for “proving” the athlete guilty. It is too inconsistent at this point, with little oversight and no accountability. It is the same problem I have with the fines for heavy hits, especially ones that, despite being legal, look horrible or cause serious injuries. Most of the punishments given out by the NFL and the NHL in particular seem to be driven by public sentiment, not whether the athlete “deserves” such a punishment.
I think an innocent until proven guilty policy with regard for league-mandated punishments for crimes that don’t endanger players’ abilities to perform their jobs would work under a couple of circumstances. First, as endaround points out in the same thread, there are consistency problems in the penalties that the NFL, for example, has been handing down, particularly since they’re outside what’s been negotiated. So a clear, negotiated framework for penalties that the leagues that are required to adhere to unless they get permission from a neutral panel, and that perhaps trades the promise of not handing down penalties until a court decision or a plea deal for higher overall penalties, seems key. If fans felt like the leagues and teamworks were building frameworks that incorporated a sense of their values, they might have more confidence in league decisions.
Second, I’m still not convinced an innocent-until-proven-guilty policy is necessary for charges about things that actively endanger athletes’ abilities to do their jobs. If you get busted driving drunk or under the influence of drugs, or speeding at 100 miles an hour, or say, accidentally shooting yourself, all things that are both immediately verifiable and demonstrably dangerous, I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that employers have the right to impose immediate penalties on you on the grounds that you’re putting yourself in a position to not be able to perform your job.