Two Sets of Rules?

Is There One Set of Rules for Beauty Queens—And Another Set of Rules for the Rest of Us? 

By Ken K. Gourdin

The following was submitted to (but declined for publication by) The Salt Lake Tribune.  Since the Tribune did not use it, I thought it would make a good introduction to a discussion about a former Utah local beauty queen who is now facing felony charges for some mischief in which she engaged with other young adult male companions.

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Introduction:  Former Miss Riverton Kendra Gill recently surrendered her crown after being charged with crimes relating to throwing acid-and-tinfoil devices at several Riverton-area homes.  (Those who wish to excuse her conduct object to the use of the word “bombs.”)

Many wish to dismiss Gill’s conduct as a mere youthful indiscretion, for which she did not deserve to lose her crown and the benefits which accompanied it.  However, if she hasn’t yet learned that actions (as well as choices to not act) have consequences, it is time that she learned that lesson.

Gill is hardly a young juvenile.  Rather, she’s a young adult, and in the adult world, there can be serious consequences for choosing to engage in certain behavior or to keep certain company.  She and her associates are unlikely to face lengthy jail time if this is their first offense; still, the seriousness of the charges reflects their need to learn that lesson.

Whatever her role in what transpired that night, at the very least, Gill showed bad judgment in choosing her company, even if not in affirmatively choosing to engage in activities for which the group was arrested.  As a young adult (not to mention a community representative) she should have known better.

What of forgiveness?  Doesn’t the Christian ethic require those at whom this conduct was directed (as well as the public at large) to forgive Gill and her associates?  Yes.  But forgiveness and trust are two different things.  Forgiveness is relatively easy to obtain, while trust is difficult to earn (and easy to lose).

Being selected as a public representative is a public trust.  As a representative of Riverton City, Gill should have recognized that her conduct (or at least, her failure to try to prevent questionable conduct while in the company of others who engaged in it) could reflect badly on the community which chose her for that role.

Even professional athletes, many of whom are hardly paragons of virtue, have “morals” clauses in their contracts which dictate that if the athletes do things which reflect badly on their teams, the teams can reduce their salary (or perhaps even void their contracts entirely).

Would anyone who favors allowing Gill to keep her crown and its accompanying benefits seriously argue that we should actually hold her to a lesser standard than that to which we hold professional athletes?  If so, that seems awfully perverse.

Too many public figures who behave badly receive “slaps on the wrist” which do not match the seriousness of their bad behavior, and too many of them get “second chances” (and perhaps third or fourth chances) in the name of “tolerance” and “forgiveness.”  But what message does this send to those who are solid citizens who play by the rules?  What message would it send to Gill’s attendants?

Too many people are already justifiably cynical that there is one set of rules in our society for the beautiful, the talented, the famous, and the otherwise privileged – and another set of rules for the rest of us.  We should do whatever we can to dispel that notion, even if that means a beauty queen loses her crown for a “youthful indiscretion.”

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While beauty pageants, as much as talent might factor in, at bottom, are mostly about, well, beauty, one of my first thoughts (which I posted on the discussion board in response to a Salt Lake Tribune story on the matter) when I first heard that Ms. Gill surrendered her crown for misbehavior in which she reportedly engaged while in the company of several young adult male associates in the Riverton area, was, “Did you give up the two large in scholarship money, too, Hon?”  Another poster asked, “[W]hy?  [T]his is what is wrong with this country. She had earned them. [O]ne bad incident should not undo all her achievement.  I am sad to hear this come from worthless people like you.”  I responded to that thus:

That doesn’t even make sense. If I’m “worthless,” why on earth would you bother enough to be “sad” about anything I have to say! . . . And yes, worthless or no, I stand by what I said: she was awarded the scholarship in large part for agreeing to be on her best behavior and to avoid doing anything that would cast the city in a bad light as a representative of Riverton City. And, although (to make a comparison) few professional athletes are paragons of virtue, even many of THEM have morals clauses in their contracts, whereby the amount the parties agree will be paid under the contract can be reduced (and, in extreme cases, the contract can be voided outright) if they do something that reflects badly upon the team or otherwise damages the team’s interests.

Full disclosure: I’m not a lawyer; this represents only my own opinion, and anyone needing legal advice should contact a licensed attorney. Now that we’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the former Miss Riverton had signed an agreement to that effect. The scholarship constitutes at least part of the consideration (now-former) Miss Riverton receives for so agreeing. The former Miss Riverton’s engaging in criminal conduct casts the city in a bad light; if Miss Riverton’s agreement to represent the city in that capacity contains a clause that says she agrees to avoid doing so during her reign, she likely violated that clause; since she violated that clause, the agreement likely is void; if the agreement is void, the city is perfectly within its right to demand that she return the scholarship money. If teams do that to professional athletes (most of whom are hardly paragons of virtue), why should Miss Riverton be any different? Are you saying that we should hold Miss Riverton to a lower standard than that to which we hold professional athletes?

People earn stuff all the time, but, if they agree to certain terms and then fail to live up to them, they also “unearn” stuff all the time. It’s not a hard concept to grasp. There. Now you can go back to being “sad” about my “worthlessness.” We now return you to your regularly-scheduled, un-sad, un-worthless programming!

This poster continued to claim that I’m being unfair to Ms. Gill.  He replied, “[D]id you read the terms [of the contract or agreement]? I guess not.  [Of course, neither did he, but he fails to mention that.]  [S]he never said that she will be a role model to your kids[,] did she?  [I’m not sure how he knows so much about my family status, but . . . ]  [T]he[n] why all this hullabaloo[?]”  I replied:

Even if such a term wasn’t within the four corners of the agreement, avoiding bad public behavior (and hopefully avoiding bad behavior, period) kinda goes with the territory. Otherwise, someone among Riverton’s powers-that-be might as well have simply opened up the Riverton phone book to a random page, closed his eyes, allowed his finger to drop upon a random spot on that random page, called the person whose name was so selected, and said, “Congratulations! You’ve won the First Annual Riverton City Sweepstakes!” I wonder how the former Miss Riverton’s first attendant feels about your blithe dismissal of her bad behavior.

In response to another poster, who also claimed I was being unfair to Ms. Gill, I explained why I believe serious charges are appropriate for her:

Personally, I think that people who are selected as community representatives (no matter how small the community or how seemingly insignificant the representation … “Hello, [now-former] Miss Riverton”) should be held to a higher standard, particularly when that status carries a scholarship benefit with it. Slapping this girl on the wrist would send the wrong message to young people who don’t do this kind of thing (and yet have never gotten a scholarship) that success in life is less about your genuine qualifications and behavior than about whether you happen to be beautiful and marginally talented. (And yes, it does matter who one chooses as one’s friends and what one does when hanging out with them.) If we were dealing with young juveniles, I might agree with you. But we’re not. We’re dealing with people who are on the cusp of (if not already entering) (albeit young) adulthood. When they do things like this, it causes reasonable people rightly to question whether they’re fully prepared to shoulder the obligations that go with that status. Charging them with serious offenses sends the message that they’d best prepare themselves better for those obligations.

Exaggerating and mischaracterizing what I was saying, another poster replied, “Yeah, let’s send them all to prison for 20 years, that’s show them.”  I replied:

With due respect, perhaps you could review the thread and tell me where I said any such thing. You won’t find it, because I didn’t, and you should really try to avoid putting words into other posters’ mouths, as it were. My comments on this story have been in an attempt to refute those who believe these young people should not be facing serious charges. If this is a first offense for all involved, the likelihood is that these young people won’t even do any jail time, let alone doing any prison time. That said, as I have pointed out elsewhere in the comments to this story, by definition, you can’t plea bargain “nothing” down to “less than nothing.” That, along with efforts at deterring anyone else who might think that similar acts are a good idea, justify serious charges in this case. What sentence is imposed for those charges, on the other hand, is up to a judge.

The poster who accused me of lobbying for a 20-year prison sentence then replied:

So you have no problem with throwing outrageous charges at somebody with the intent of scaring them into pleading guilty to a plea deal whether they are actually guilty of anything or not, because ‘they just don’t dare take the chance.’”

If you’ve read any of my posts elsewhere you know I certainly do, it’s something I’ve seen first hand. Somebody very close to me was looking at 5 to life, even though he had a very good chance of being found not guilty he pleaded out to a 5-20 “because he just didn’t dare take that chance”. I attended his first (and only) parole hearing where the parole officer reviewing his case basically asked “What the hell are you even doing here?

He did 5 years to the day, 5 wasted years that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.  I won’t say it here, but I’d tell you to your face what you could do with your plea bargains.

I pointed out that he continued to mischaracterize what I was saying, replying as follows:

While I am acutely aware that this expression is wholly inadequate to your situation and to the pain it has caused, my sympathies to you and to your family member who was done wrong by the system. That said, you’re still attempting to put words in my mouth, as it were. I can’t stop you from doing so if you’re determined to persist in an effort to justify your animus toward me; if you want to continue to get overheated based on what you think I’ve said rather than what I actually have said, I can’t stop you (but I do think that it’s a waste of time, bandwidth, and energy to direct such opinions at a quasi-anonymous Internet poster).

All of that having been said, nowhere have I justified using the offer of a plea bargain as a scare tactic. Again, that’s you putting words into my mouth. For your convenience, I’ll repeat what I actually have already said, more slowly this time because it seems (with all due respect) that your emotions are getting in the way of sound logic and rhetoric, as well as comprehension: (which is understandable, I suppose, but still …)

If this is a first offense for all involved, the likelihood is that these young people won’t do any jail time, let alone any prison time.

And …

By definition, you can’t plea bargain “nothing” down to “less than nothing.”  That, along with efforts at deterring anyone else who might think that similar acts are a good idea, justifies serious charges in this case.

How either one of those statements (or both taken together) can be read to justify the use of plea bargaining as a scare tactic is beyond me. (And I would strongly suggest that you stop trying to convince yourself, me, or anyone else that that’s what I’ve tried to do. In all seriousness, it’s not good for your health.)

. . . I’m not trying to draw any kind of a comparison (however remote) between our respective situations, OK? But I can only speak to what I know, so I’ll use myself as an example: I was once charged with Disorderly Conduct (a Class B misdemeanor … not the worst thing in the world, but still …) following a disagreement I had with some officials at a local university who declined to intervene on my behalf to request an accommodation for a disability. (Discretion rested with the professor, and he probably would have turned me down anyway, but they declined even to ask.) From my perspective, they magnified what was a simple customer service issue (along with my response) beyond proper proportion.

Disorderly Conduct is a chicken-crap charge used when one cop looks at another and they both scratch their heads and say to each other, “Well, geez, we gotta charge him with somethin’, don’t we?” I was ordered to not come back to the office for 72 hours, an order with which I complied. In fact, I never went back to the office during the rest of the time I was enrolled at the institution, except when I needed evidence of what accommodations I did receive in order to apply to take a professional exam. I did a stretch on probation, during which time I didn’t violate the law (in fact, I haven’t done so since, and it’s been more than a few years now.)

Was I overcharged? Yeah, probably. But if one of the system’s goals is to prevent recidivism, did it work in my case? Yeah, it did. Like I said, I haven’t violated the law since.  No, I didn’t need to be overcharged . . . . But, assuming I’ve told you the truth about my criminal history, it worked, didn’t it?! ;-D As for the young people in this case having already learned their lesson, I hope so, but I’d rather be surer than that. Too many people (and yes, I realize this is inapplicable to you and members of your family; I’m just speaking generally) don’t treat their dealings with the system with the gravity those dealings merit (and this includes more mature adults as well as young people). I’d be interested in seeing (at least seeing reports on) the in-court demeanor of these young people and their interactions with court personnel to be certain. And I’d like to know what they say, on the record, about what they did, and why I (along with the rest of society) can be reasonably well-assured they won’t do it (or anything like it) again.

And again, assuming they have (relatively) clean records otherwise, I’d be willing to wager (if I were a betting man), that they won’t get jail time unless it’s suspended.

Another poster invoked the Christian command to forgive in an effort to support her assertion that I’m being too hard on Ms. Gill:

I disagree with you. This young woman made a mistake, and she is paying dearly for it. The good people of Riverton should be willing to forgive her. After all, she is young. Who among us didn’t do something foolish when we were young?  Kenngo [my screen name on that site], did you forget the prayer in which we ask the Lord to forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us? Or the scripture about not judging others unless you want to be judged yourself?

I responded to this as follows:

I’ve posted a lot on this thread today. Without knowing specifically what I’ve said that you disagree with, I’m afraid I will be unable to offer any substantive comment regarding your disagreement . . . except to say that, barring clarification, alas, we’ll simply have to agree to disagree.

I’m not exactly sure what “the good people of Riverton … forgiv[ing] her” should entail. For reasons I’ve already stated, I don’t think such “forgiveness” should entail restoring her to her former status, that is, giving her back her crown and its accompanying benefits. Occupying the status of Miss Riverton is a privilege, not a right. You’re correct that the Christian ethic requires us to forgive others, but forgiveness and trust are two different things: if she proves herself unworthy of the status of Miss Riverton and accompanying public trust as a public figure and community representative, it would not be fair to her first attendant (among others) to allow her to continue as though she had done nothing wrong, forgiveness notwithstanding.

There are far too many public figures who commit wrongdoing, yet escape with sanction which isn’t commensurate with the wrong done. Too many people already believe that there is one set of rules for the beautiful, the famous, the talented, and the otherwise privileged, and another set of rules for the rest of us. I think we should avail ourselves of every opportunity possible to send the message that one’s beauty, fame, talent, and privilege don’t entitle her to play by a different set of rules than that which applies to the rest of us. Every time we fail to do so, we send the messages that “playing by the rules” and being a “solid citizen” don’t matter. Those messages already are too common. They don’t need any more airtime than they already get.

Another poster also opined that these young people were overcharged, saying, “What she did was wrong and she should face justice. But a felony? Big overreaction.”  I responded:

Only “something” can be pleaded down to “almost nothing.” By definition, one cannot plead “nothing” down to “less than nothing.” This is not a case in which charging those involved with misdemeanors will send the appropriate message, which is, “No. You need to understand. We’re really serious about not wanting you to do anything like this again, as well as not wanting anyone else to do anything like this, even if (in fact especially if) you’re simply young and stupid.”

The poster with whom I began this conversation asked, “[W]hat is your agenda? [Y]ou seem to be very bitter about the fact that the kid earned a 2000 dollar scholarship. 2000 dollars is peanuts.  [G]o get a job!!!!”  I responded:

Agenda? I have no agenda. I simply think that one of the proper roles of law enforcement is deterrence. If we can use the criminal justice system to send the message to other young people that making and throwing devices which are activated by caustic chemicals is not a good idea (as well as to stop the ones involved in this incident from doing anything similar in the future, as well as from reoffending period) … even if one is bored, thinks s/he has nothing better to do, or is motivated (even to a small degree) by revenge … is a worthwhile endeavor.

Bitter? Well, I have little patience for people who argue that others who’ve done what this group has done deserve second, third, and fourth (and maybe even fifth, sixth, and seventh) chances when there are plenty of people who deserve it more than this group who’ve never even gotten a first chance. (How many people are equally deserving, if not more deserving, for example, of that $2,000 scholarship who wouldn’t even think of doing what this young lady did?)

And I have little patience for people who argue that people such as the young people involved in this case shouldn’t face serious charges. (Which is not, I’ll hasten to add, the same thing as saying that we should lock them up and throw away the key . . .) But yes, society should send the message, “Yeah, we’re really serious that people (even the young-and-perhaps-stupid) shouldn’t do stuff like this, so if, on the off chance, you were thinking about it …”

I think these young people, youth notwithstanding, should be able to recognize that they shouldn’t combine otherwise-ordinary household items in potentially dangerous ways. They should be able to recognize that they shouldn’t engage in behavior that results in potentially risking the welfare and property of others (not to mention potentially risking their own welfare) by making such devices and throwing them at others’ property. They should be able to stop to consider that, “Hey, maybe this isn’t such a bright idea,” or, “Man, am I really sure I don’t have anything better to do?” or (in the case of the now-former Miss Riverton), “Hey, I’m a public figure (at least on a small scale), and others are counting on me to set some kind of example, and to represent my community positively. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. And which is more, since I have something of a reputation to uphold, maybe I shouldn’t even simply hang out with those who do …” And since they couldn’t come to those realizations on their own before the fact, then at least maybe the criminal justice system can help them do that after the fact.

And “Get a job”? Plainly, it’s the young people who were involved in this incident who lack constructive things to do, apparently. They need jobs, perhaps more than one each, if this sort of thing is the best way they can think of to spend their free time. As for my own employment situation (not that it’s any of your business), but yeah, I do need a job. Even a lousy two grand isn’t “peanuts,” at least, not to me: it is, however, a little more than four months’ rent; it is a little more than nine car payments; and it is a little more than six months’ worth of student loan payments. Are you volunteering to be my career coach for free? If so, I’m sure you won’t have a problem posting some IRL [in real life] info here to facilitate our contact with one another so I can take you up on your generous offer (and thanks in advance!)

This poster then replied (quoting me in single quotes), “‘Man, am I really sure I don’t have anything better to do?’” then continued, “you need to ask that to your self. … I did not know that one would be foolish to take a loan to get a degree in psychology or english major [sic; capitalization, spelling, and grammar as in original].”  I reposted that content as-is, then continued:

And you’re the one telling me that getting a degree in English (or at least, doing so if it required me to finance my education with loans) would be “foolish”? OK. That statement, especially the way it uses incorrect spelling, grammar, and capitalization, speaks for itself; more than enough said. (Having said that, I’m more than willing to give you wide latitude if, as I suspect, English doesn’t happen to be your first language. But remember, I’m not the one who thinks that studying English is “foolish.”) As for psychology, yes I happen to think that’s a useful and fascinating discipline as well (though it does have its limits). I wouldn’t consider getting a degree in psychology “foolish.” (And by the way, just for the record, you’re 0 for 2: my degree(s) aren’t in either of those disciplines.)

As for “not hav[ing] anything better to do [than posting in the TribTalk forums],” pot, meet kettle? You’re more than welcome to your apparent conclusion that your contributions to this thread are more worthwhile than mine. (Given the fact that my opinion on the matters with which the thread deals seems to be in the minority, I wouldn’t blame you for having reached that conclusion.) What can I say? I like the First Amendment, and I have taken full advantage of it. I’ve spewed forth my opinions much wider than merely in this little corner of cyberspace, and, with all due respect, I’ll continue to do so, no matter how much you and any number of your like-minded fellows might believe those opinions aren’t worth the bandwidth they occupy.

And I’m frugal and financially conservative by nature. While $2,000 is a lot of money to me now because I don’t happen to have (or to make) a lot, my personality is such that I will never be able (no matter how much I might have, or how much I might make) to spend $2,000 on a single occasion without batting an eye. That’s simply the way I am.

Update, December 26, 2013: Plea Bargaining, Mandatory Minimum Sentences, and the Sixth Amendment

By Ken K. Gourdin

Do plea bargaining and mandatory minimum sentencing laws sometimes conspire to deny an accused his Sixth-Amendment Constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his peers?1  One conservative columnist is among those who think so2, and he is joined by other people who play various roles in the criminal justice system on both sides of the aisle (both prosecutors and defense attorneys among them). I’m inclined to agree.

Professor Paul G. Cassell of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah (full disclosure: Professor Cassell is a former professor of mine) and others have decried the fact that the current federal mandatory minimum sentencing scheme often mandates the imposition of draconian punishments which often are grossly disproportionate to the seriousness of the crimes charged.3

I believe Professor Cassell’s opinions on the matter should carry great weight.  As a former judge of the United States District Court for the District of Utah, Professor Cassell faced this problem squarely when Federal Sentencing Guidelines forced him to impose a sentence he felt was grossly disproportionate, given the facts of the case before him.4

Then-Judge Cassell sentenced Weldon Angelos, who carried (but did not display or use) a gun during several drug transactions involving the sale of marijuana, to fifty-five years and a day of imprisonment in 2005 because the guidelines tied his hands and forced him to impose such a sentence based on federal weapon enhancements.  The “deal” federal prosecutors offered Angelos still would have required him to spend fifteen years in prison, so Angelos refused because his attorneys argued that federal agents exceeded the scope of the warrant which led to the discovery of the drug evidence that resulted in Angelos’s arrest in the first place.

Before anyone excoriates then-Judge Cassell too harshly, his decision was only one link in the chain of events that led to this apparent injustice.  While I have not seen the presentencing report on Angelos from the Federal Probation & Pretrial Services Office in Salt Lake City, nothing I have read about the case convinces me that Angelos’s actions merited such severe punishment.  Assuming agreement between that report and the sources I have read, federal prosecutors could (and should) have relieved Judge Cassell of an unfair burden by exercising their discretion in this matter and resisting the temptation to press for such a draconian sentence in the first place.

However rare such instances may be, as long as those who hold such a (justifiably) jaundiced view of plea bargaining and prosecutorial overreach can point to the Weldon Angeloses of the world in support of their position, the accusation is not likely to lose steam anytime soon.

END NOTES

1. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in relevant part: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . .”
2. See George F. Will (December 26, 2013) “Sledgehammer justice benefits no one,” The Salt Lake Tribune A15, available on line (and last accessed today) at the following address: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/57306319-82/guilty-851-drug-government.html.csp.
3. See Eric Luna and Paul G. Cassell, “Mandatory Minimalism,” 32 Cardozo L. Rev. 1 (2010), accessed on line http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1095&context=wlufac on December 26, 2013.
4. See United States v. Angelos, 345 F.Supp.2nd 1227 (D. Utah, decision of Cassell, J.) accessed on line at http://www.leagle.com/decision/20041572345fsupp2d1227_11456 on December 27, 2013.  Special thanks to S.J. Quinney Reference Librarian Linda Stephenson for her help in locating the case.

Update, March 3, 2014: More Thoughts on Why Athletes, Other Talented Performers, the Rich, Famous, and Otherwise Privileged Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Play By Different Rules Than The Rest of Us 

By Ken K. Gourdin

A New Mexico State men’s basketball player was suspended for throwing the basketball at a Utah Valley University Wolverine during a fracas immediately after the hotly-contested game, which the Wolverines won (thereby securing the regular season conference championship).  The story and reader commentary can be found here (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/pages/comments?cid=57613213.

My first post on the thread was based on my imagination of what a mollycoddled, entitled jock might say upon learning that his coach suspended him for his inexcusable behavior of throwing a basketball at an opposing player shortly after the final buzzer sounded.  I said:

[Quoting his coach from the article]: “It is an honor and a privilege to wear an Aggie uniform and a responsibility comes with that privilege.”

Honor? Privilege? Responsibility? Oh, you mean, people should honor ME, that they have a responsibility to ME, and that they’re privileged to watch ME, because people have been telling me how special I am since seventh grade since I can play a kid’s game pretty well by putting a little round ball through a little round hoop?

[After hearing his coach announce his punishment]: Suspended!  What the …?  [FREAK] that! You don’t want to tell me my [crap] smells like roses, I’ll just transfer or declare for the NBA draft [sic; both brackets and bracketed material in original].

My correspondent responded, “Ignorant hypocrisy. I love Mormons.”  He probably concluded that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) because of my use of self-edited “profanity.”  I replied:

You’re absolutely right. He would be the first athlete in the history of sport to believe that anyone owes him anything simply because he’s pretty good at playing a kids’ game. (Or, if not, athletes who think they’re entitled are only the rarest of exceptions rather than the all-too-frequent and sad rule.) I don’t know what I was thinking. Where on earth did I get the idea that jocks think they’re entitled to anything? My bad. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming.

That bit about Mormons? A non sequitur. Whether anyone in this conversation is Mormon or not, you ought to know that there are standards of language even in this Wild-West Corner of Cyber Space. You would have been denied the pleasure of disagreeing with my comment had I included any foul language in it. And no single group has a corner on ignorance and hypocrisy (as you so amply demonstrate yourself by jumping to conclusions regarding religion). 

My correspondent replied (and I note with interest that hereafter, he is completely silent on the subject of religion.  I guess the truth about jumping to conclusions—even if they happen to be accurate—hurts), “You are agreeing that you are envious? That what it sounds like.”

Yes, absolutely.  If someone feels that the rules don’t apply to them (and, in fact, if they receive preferential treatment despite bad behavior, then, in fact the rules DON’T apply to them) I AM envious of them.  And it goes well beyond student athletes.  People who are beautiful, rich, talented, or otherwise privileged often get free passes or mere slaps on the wrist for conduct that would land the rest of us in jail or prison, expelled from school, out of a job, and so on.

Such preferential treatment based on superficial criteria sends the message that “playing by the rules” (both literally and figuratively speaking) and being a “solid citizen” (my phrases in both sets of quotes) don’t matter.  I think that message is far too common in our society today, and I think anytime someone stands up and says, “No; you may be beautiful, you may be rich, you may be talented, and/or you may be otherwise privileged, but you play by the same rules as everyone else—period; or you suffer the consequences,” that’s a good thing.

My correspondent then said, “You paid your own way [through school] 3 times while they get a free ride to play a kids game. So professional athletes are playing kids games?? That’s silly.”  I replied:

No, it’s not.  It’s exactly the truth: even if everybody else in the world fawns over athletes for how well they can play kids’ games (no matter how well-paid they are or how well regarded they are for their athletic prowess, when it comes right down to it, that’s all they’re doing: playing kids’ games), I don’t care; you’re free to think I’m being unreasonable for not caring.  No matter how talented one is, getting a scholarship as a student athlete and being paid millions of dollars to play kids’ games are PRIVILEGES, NOT RIGHTS.

Like it or not, athletes represent their teams and their sports both ON the field or court and OFF of it.  If, by his conduct off the field or court, an athlete demonstrates that he’s an unfit representative of his team, his school, or his sport, he’s has three options: (1) find a different team or school where his bad behavior will be tolerated or (if he is not expelled and/or dismissed from the team), (2) subject himself to the same terms as any non-scholarship or average athlete (take a pay cut, which I admit is unlikely to happen in professional sports unless a team finds his conduct so serious that it voids his contract, or if he’s a student athlete, walk on); or (3) get a real job.  If an athlete wants MY respect, he’s going to have to earn it OFF the court or field, not just for his exploits ON it.  Yes, I realize very few people hold athletes at any level (or anyone who’s beautiful, well-to-do, or talented) to such high standards; yes, I realize I’m far more the exception than the rule.  You’re free to think me idiosyncratic or unfair; fine.

My correspondent then said, “Instead of being envious and angry at THEM, carve out a niche for yourself in life. Why be mad that they don’t appreciate their path like you would (you think)? Envy isn’t something to be proud of.”  I replied:

Boy, that’s a wonderful idea, Macsimillian!  You have inspired me!  How can I ever thank you?! (Perhaps I should prostrate myself and lick your boots now?!!)   (With due respect, what the h*** do you think I was trying to do when I spent all that time in school in order to receive those three degrees?)  Yes, I hold strong opinions on the subject of whether someone who’s rich, talented, famous, or otherwise privileged ought to be allowed to play by different rules.  I will continue to do so.  Does that mean I’ll live an unbalanced life, lose sleep over any perceived injustices, or allow any perceived injustice to afflict me with tunnel vision such that I won’t be able to see the beauty in life (including, perhaps, the “beauty” of a noteworthy athletic or artistic performance)?  No.  But I reserve the right to continue to have and to express strong opinions on this matter, and that doesn’t mean that I’m constantly plotting revenge against everyone who is better looking, more talented, richer, or otherwise more privileged than I am (which, on some level, probably includes just about everybody).  I agree, envy isn’t something to be proud of, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that anyone who worked his tail off to achieve a level of respect and noteworthiness in his profession doesn’t deserve that respect.

I simply don’t think that respect entitles him to play by different rules than everyone else.  For example, if he commits a crime, his fame should have no impact on his punishment; too often, that isn’t the case.  If he gets sued and is found liable, his fame should have no impact on any judgment against him; too often, that isn’t the case.  If a famous person and I were both to do the same thing, for which one might be expected to be subjected to public humiliation and ridicule, notwithstanding whatever we did, and while we both are entitled to basic human decency and dignity, he would get more of that than I would simply because of his fame.

My correspondent then said, “If you weren’t so afraid of THEM you could get to know them . . .”  And I replied:

Afraid, simply because I refuse to engage in the fawning adulation to which too many of them have become so accustomed (or to avoid calling it what it is when others do it)?  And “get to know them”?  What, you mean, like (for example) becoming Kobe Bryant’s 20,000,000th-and-FIRST follower on Facebook or Twitter?  (I’m sure he’d be very grateful!  He’d probably even send me a personal note and an autographed jersey!)    I’ll tell you what: why don’t you call Kobe and set that up?  You and I both know that (at least on the professional level) most of these people have possés of dozens of bodyguards, assistants, groupies, and other assorted hangers-on at least in part so they don’t HAVE to really “get to know” anybody who’s part of “the great unwashed” masses outside of their immediate (if large) circles. 

My correspondent then said, “. . . [I]nstead of judging, find common ground, rather than feeling like they have it so much easier than you,” and I replied:

On the professional level, athletes, entertainers, and performers DO have it easier than me.  I’m not complaining, and while I’m not naïve enough to suggest that fame or money would solve the problems that the average person has to deal with (or to believe that those assets don’t carry with them their own set of unique challenges).  I understand life isn’t fair, but that would still be the case even if we didn’t too often allow athletes and other performers to play by a different set of rules.  We can’t do anything about the former: life will always be unfair; but I will continue to aver that people shouldn’t be allowed to play by a different set of rules based on fame, talent, or privilege.

My correspondent replied, “Sorry[,] but white men have not a foot to stand on in that argument, as they are the least disenfranchised group by far,” and I responded: “What if I happened to be a member of a disadvantaged group whose membership crosses racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic lines?  What then?”

My correspondent then said, “[S]o your envy is just not real, not based in real facts, rather a fear of and hatred towards THEM for what you THINK is reality.”  I replied:

“Fear” and “hatred”?  Please!  What you call fear and hatred, I call a simple unwillingness to suffer anyone gladly who would fawn over someone because of his athletic prowess, other ability as a performer, fame, or other resources.  You’re misguided (at best) to equate such a position with “fear” and “hatred.”

My correspondent said, “Not trying to put you down, seriously. . . .”  And I replied:

No, you’re not trying to put me down.  You’ve just (for example) accused me, in a roundabout way of being lazy (you, too, could be successful, if you just WORKED at it hard enough!), have attributed to me a bunch of negative emotions I don’t hold (see, e.g., “fear” and “hatred”) and have questioned my grip on reality.  But no, you’re not trying to put me down!   (Still, I will allow, with respect to the my grip on “reality,” that Steven R. Covey was right when he said that we don’t see the world as IT is, we see it as WE are.  That’s true of me . . . and oh, by the way, it’s true of YOU, too!  Imagine that!)

My correspondent said, “I hate that [people] can be anonymous on here so say mean, crude stuff. . . .”  And I replied, “You may disagree with me; that’s fine.  If you can point to anything I’ve said that has been ‘mean’ or ‘crude,’ I’ll be happy to retract it.”  He then replied, “I’m not trying to dis you. . . .”  And I said, “Right.  You’ve accused me of harboring fear and hatred and of lacking a grip on reality (among other things), but you’re not trying to ‘dis’ me.  Got it.”

My correspondent said, “[I’m] just trying to explain that while your FEELINGS are 100% valid, they’re not correct.”  And I replied:

Right. I haven’t said anything that’s objectively verifiable, or anything that’s based on logic (whether you agree with my logic or not).  Because I’ve been emphatic and impassioned in expressing my viewpoint, in your mind, apparently, that’s reason enough for you to discard it.  (I hope we never serve together on a jury!)  Unfortunately, no study exists that compares (for example) the treatment of the rich, famous, talented, or otherwise privileged in the criminal justice system with average, everyday, largely-anonymous defendants (but, perhaps, for their infamous criminal conduct), and even if such a study DID exist, no disparity possibly could be found, because no such disparity exists.  Got it.  I don’t know about anybody else, but your ipse dixit is good enough for me!  Thanks for setting me straight. 

My correspondent then said, “I know you feel strongly about it, but it’s just not true that THEY are all like that, very few are actually. THEY are more like you than you could ever imagine, with the same wants & needs & ambitions & struggles & so on.”  I replied, “You question MY logic, and yet you hit me with THAT kind of touchy-feely stuff?  Hey!  Wait!  All of a sudden, I feel so WARM and FUZZY inside!  I need to find a famous athlete to HUG!!!”

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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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