Innocent until proven guilty?

Whenever an American runs afoul of the law in this country, we have a little saying we like to proudly spout with our chests proudly stuck out for the whole world to see:

Innocent until proven guilty!

Unfortunately, most Americans fail to grasp what it actually means. While it's the cornerstone of the legal system in this country, and it's part of what makes America great, it really is only that -- applicable to the legal system.

It doesn't apply to the private sector, and it most certainly doesn't apply to public perception -- two points that are critical to understand when wondering why Michael Vick has been barred from reporting to training camp for the Falcons and why Americans (and Bud Selig) are having such a difficult time embracing Barry Bonds' imminent setting of the all-time baseball home run record.

People are correct when they point out that not only does an indictment not prove anything, it's not terribly difficult for the government to secure an indictment against an individual.

But those people would be missing the point. Actually, four points.

  1. The NFL is a business;
  2. It's a private business run by extremely wealthy individuals who wish to protect their considerable investments;
  3. Those considerable investments are only such because millions of fans take more than a passing interest in those investments; and
  4. Because it's a private business, those wealthy individuals can do pretty much anything they want to their employees -- within the boundaries of the collective bargaining agreement -- that they think best protects their investment, especially in the eyes of those who make that investment profitable.
Many have cried that we wouldn't want our employers rushing to judgment on us in the face of a legal battle. The response to that is simple: We're not NFL football players. In general, our employers do not need to think the same way about public perception as the NFL does. Usually, they stand to benefit more by keeping us around for productivity purposes (or to avoid union headaches). If you're easy to replace, they'll replace you -- just ask any minimum wage worker who has been fired for a small mistake.

Is it fair to Michael Vick? Absolutely. He knew the rules when he became an NFL football player -- rules that have enabled him to already become wealthy beyond what most of us can comprehend because they protect the profitability of the product for all NFL players.

It's not always great for the individual, but nobody's complaining when they're cashing those million-dollar paychecks.

Beyond that, even our legal system doesn't require a smoking gun to prove guilt; many a criminal has been put away with enough circumstantial evidence.

How much less evidence, then, does a private business require to take action, or the public to reach a conclusion? Maybe it's simply an indictment that cuts to the heart of decent human beings everywhere. Or perhaps it's an exceptionally researched book. Whatever that burden of proof is, it's far less than what the courts require. It doesn't have to be a guilty verdict at the hands of a jury, or an indisputable positive result on a pee test.

Innocent until proven guilty?

Quit being so naive.


Dr Pezz said...

Thank you for this post! I am so tired of hearing "innocent until proven guilty," especially from the oh so frequent apologists of pro athletes.

People often forget that NFL players are basically at-will employees and can be fired at almost any time. This is part of the reason for the signing bonuses.

I have never been a fan of Vick, and if he's found guilty I hope he gets lots of jail time for this despicable act. I heard an interview with an FBI analyst who said 70% of people convicted of dog-fighting later commit acts of violence against humans. Scary!

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