Performance should not succeed punishment

By Hadia Chaudhry and Faith Oak

Ezekiel Elliott is in the middle of serving his six-week suspension from the National Football League (NFL) for domestic violence. The Cowboys running back avoided his suspension with appeals for as long as he could, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied further injunction into the suspension, which was initially assigned in August. He dropped his appeal soon after and will be back from suspension by the end of December.

Elliott was first accused of domestic abuse in early 2016. The consequences for his actions were put off until every allegation against him could be confirmed. He continued playing amidst the review process and repeatedly denied the allegations, further lengthening the procedure.

In the meantime, his performance this season was one of the best of his career. Elliott’s skill was emphasized by the Cowboys’ poor performance against the Falcons in just the first week of his suspension.

Elliot is not the only athlete who has evaded punishment for misconduct. The first baseman for the Houston Astros, Yuli Gurriel, made headlines in Game 3 of the 2017 World Series when he made a racist gesture toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish. Angelenos were outraged, and Gurriel was assigned a five-game suspension at the start of the 2018 season. In short, he was allowed to continue playing for the rest of the World Series. Looking at his performance in the past season, it is clear that he was an asset to the team, hitting 18 home runs.

But all this tells him is that the consequences of his actions are only applicable when the owners and commissioner see fit, based on how crucial it is to their winning. In both cases, although the players proved themselves as skilled athletes throughout the season, their aptitude should not have been a factor in their punishments.

When the consequences of behavior like that of Elliott, Gurriel, and countless others are allowed postponement, this diminishes the meaning behind the punishment and proves to both players and viewers that offensive or violent behavior is acceptable. Adam Jones, cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals, proved this when he was suspended in the beginning of the 2017 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in a hotel incident in January. Jones was similarly suspended in 2007 for his involvement in a fight and shooting in February at a Las Vegas strip club; he did not receive his suspension until May as he was the team’s top defender. A decade has passed, and nothing has changed; players are still allowed to believe that they can get away with anything as long as they are physically talented.

Professional sports leagues and organizations need to take  action and responsibility for every offensive act done by their athletes. A clear example should have been set from the beginning to show them that, especially with such big platforms, the kind of “locker-room” behavior they demonstrate on or off the field is completely inappropriate and will not be tolerated.

This is a pertinent subject in professional sports because of its influence over a wide range of people. In everyday society, the actions of these athletes would be heavily criticized if done by anyone else. As figures in a position of influence, they set examples for a younger generation that looks up to them. In a business where money and success are key, quick assignment of a punishment to offenders says much more than a trophy.

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