Darren Sharper is a former pro-footballer and was one of the elite defensive backs of the National Football League (NFL) in the 2000s. He has recently become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and based solely on his on-field career could be standing next to his bust in Canton, Ohio at some stage in the near future.
Sharper has been accused of, and charged with, the rape of two women in Los Angeles, three in New Orleans and two in Arizona. It has also been said that police suspect him of committing two more sexual assaults in Las Vegas in January, though no formal charges have been filed there. If found guilty it is likely he will face life in prison for his crimes. Sharper has so far pled not guilty.
Calls abound for Sharper to be precluded from consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Peter King from Sports Illustrated is a highly respected sports journalist who has spent decades covering the NFL. King is a part of the committee that decides if Sharper will be accepted to the Hall of Fame.
King has said he would resign from the committee if off-field behaviour is used as a reason to keep Sharper out of Canton.
Peter King has taken a highly principled stance on Sharper’s potential preclusion from the Hall of Fame.
King says the Hall is clear about how it considers candidates – by their contributions on the field alone. On this basis, Sharper is a candidate – not a sure inclusion, but one worthy of discussion by the selection committee.
This position is also supported by one of the fundamental tenets of the American justice system: someone should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Sharper has pled not guilty, and until recent weeks there was suspicions that the charges may be dropped by police due to a lack of evidence.[i]
Following this position, punishing Sharper by not considering him for the Hall of Fame on the basis of crimes he may have committed can be considered troublesome. If he is found guilty of the crimes, he will be in jail for so long his candidacy in Canton will be irrelevant. Worse still, if the allegations are vexatious then he has been punished substantially for a crime he never committed.
And to be clear King is not condoning the crimes. He himself said that
the crimes are deplorable and reprehensible, and if true, Sharper should be imprisoned for a very long time.
King’s stance on Sharper’s preclusion is principled. But sometimes maintaining one principle is a violation of another. Sometimes you have to choose between them.
The NFL, like sports across the world, is rife with crimes committed by its players against women.
Ray Rice infamously knocked out his wife Janay in a casino elevator in February of 2014. He was initially suspended for two games before community outraged prompted by the release of video of the incident saw the League’s Commissioner, Roger Goodell extend the suspension indefinitely.
This was not an isolated incident. In September of 2014, San Francisco 49ers defensive end, Ray MacDonald, was arrested for assaulting his pregnant fiancée. Then Carolina Panthers player Greg Hardy was convicted in 2014 of assault on a female as well as communicating threats in a case involving a former girlfriend. He recently had a separate assault case against a woman dismissed after the accuser failed to attend the hearing.[ii] OJ Simpson was infamously charged with the murder of his wife. He was found not guilty of the murder but later a civil court awarded a judgment against Simpson for their wrongful deaths.
In an article titled The Rate of Domestic Violence Arrests Among NFL Players for the popular statistical analysis website, fivethirtyeight.com, Benjamin Morris found that domestic violence is by far the most common crime (relative to national averages) for NFL players to be arrested for. He notes that the arrest rate:
is more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent), and domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.
It is fair to say the NFL has a problem with crimes committed by its players against women. Rice, suspended for the entire season and eventually cut by his team, represents the emergence of a more substantial approach to sentencing that the Commissioner has adopted.
Suspensions handed out by Goodell prior to this case – including Rice’s initial suspension – have often been less than would be received for using marijuana (which is even legal in at least two states with NFL teams).
Peter King says that precluding Sharper from consideration would be a slippery slope that would lead to candidates being considered for the appeal of their character rather than their performances.
Inclusion to the Hall of Fame would soon become a race for popular support from the media who are members of the committee. Given these committee are largely made up of Old White Men™, it’s easy to see why this could be problematic. Infidelity, personal controversy, even ‘not playing the game the right way’ may become determinants of a player’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame. King argues that precluding Sharper from consideration would mean removing people like OJ Simpson and Lawrence Taylor from the Hall.
It is clear that Darren Sharper should not be considered for selection in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at this time.
Protecting the integrity of an organized sport’s Hall of Fame is a notable goal of King’s. It is admirable that King is willing to consider matters of justice from a principled stance and not just the bandwagon pile on that occurs whenever a sports star slips up. King is right to be concerned that his fellow Old White Male™ voters will hold minor indiscretions against candidates, turning the voting process into an award for ‘best behaved’ as much as ‘best played’.
But these concerns? These are not as important as protecting women from sexual violence – this should be the principle we focus on. It is naïve to think that voters don’t already take off-field concerns into their considerations. They can at least direct those concerns to something of importance.
King’s concern that it may present a slippery slope may be correct. But As Ty Duffy at the BigLead argued:
If you keep out suspected serial rapists, you’d be pressured to keep out suspected one-time rapists, perhaps even players who just abused women.
It does not seem a stretch believe that even the anarchic selection committee of Pro Football Hall of Fame is able to distinguish between humans with character flaws and alleged serial rapists. It seems King has little faith in his fellow members of the selection committee. A simple change in the rules regarding selection may be capable of addressing Sharper’s case without damaging the selections of the past, or subjecting those of the future to subjective judgement.
Given the crimes remain alleged at this stage, it seems reasonable that the NFL may ask any consideration of Sharper for the Hall be delayed until his cases are finalized. This would avoid tarnishing the league or the Hall should Sharper be found guilty.
If the NFL was to say that players charged with murder or violence against women could not be celebrated in the Hall would this be unreasonable? It seems a sensible expectation to have of people who will represent the sport in history. This does not need to include cases where rumours or allegations exist. It can be solely for situations where someone has been charged with such a crime.
Not considering Sharper for the Hall of Fame at this time will not end domestic violence. It will not end sexual assault. It will not end the horror to crimes such as this must experience every day. But it will mean the Pro Football Hall of Fame doesn’t potentially reward a serial rapist.
The NFL and the sports-loving community can take it upon themselves to say to their players that they will not turn away from these crimes. It may allow one woman to feel safe enough to come forward about abuse or assault she has suffered. It could definitely form part of the efforts of governments and societies to end this scourge.
“Money cannot buy the women we love everyday security, which men take for granted…So, it’s going to take strong, accountable men to educate young boys and influence other men to deal with women respectfully, honorably and fairly at all times.”
I guess he’d know.
[i] This has since changed since a co-conspirator of Sharper’s is alleged to have given evidence substantially implicating Sharper.
[ii] There was suggestion that this occurred due to the accuser’s fear for her life.
[iii] From NFL’s Dad’s Dedicated to Daughters.