Why do pro athletes keep messing up?

Cole Anderson, Sports Editor

If you’re a Chicago sports fan, particularly a Bulls or Hawks supporter, the end of this summer wasn’t great for you. Sure, the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years and the Bulls went to the Eastern Conference semifinals, but those positive ends to the season were quickly overshadowed by controversy and conflict.

In the last six weeks, both Patrick Kane and Derrick Rose, the best players for the Blackhawks and Bulls respectively, were both accused of rape. Rose’s attorney insists the claims of the 2013 incident are entirely false. Kane’s attorney has yet to make a statement.

Kane has a history of violent behavior. In 2009, he physically attacked a cab driver who was unable to come up with $.20 in change for Kane’s cab fare. But it was long before 2009 that Kane came on the stage as one of the NHL’s biggest stars. Patrick Kane made the NHL All-Star team in 2009, and last year signed an 8-year, $84 million contract. So why do some athletes so often forget that superstardom also implies super-scrutiny?

Why do athletes seem to always mess up, despite the multitudes of fans who devote so much of their lives to supporting these athletes and their teams? How do they not consider the crowds of kids donning their favorite players’ jerseys?

It frustrates me how often athletes get into trouble. Whether it is within the league for rule violations or in in violation of the law, every year we get at least one big-name athlete going to jail or receiving a lengthy suspension from play. It’s getting old.

It’s sometimes shocking to see pictures of athletes at clubs or parties, because we expect to see them only at practice.  To become a professional in any sport, an athlete has to work really hard. Most of the athletes we see at the highest levels have had their lives develop around their sport and nothing else. They often have to make tough sacrifices and as a result they may not learn many life lessons most people take for granted. Perhaps these athletes simply don’t know right from wrong, or at least those concepts aren’t as engrained in them as they are in normal people.

There’s an extent to which I’ll entertain the “they’ve been playing their very specialized sport for most of their lives, they don’t know anything besides their sport” argument. That argument holds in very few instances, like crashing an expensive sports car, or stealing crab legs. It does not hold for weapons incidents, nor cheating (as in, taking steroids), shaving points, or deflating balls, and certainly not for sexual or domestic violence.

There is a point at which athletes need to realize they are not invincible or above the law. There is also a point at which athletes should recognize that their lives and accomplishments are important to people other than themselves. There are thousands of people standing behind every big-name athlete, giving them their full support.

Some leagues are responding to these types of incidents very stringently. Kane, who is still in the investigation phase of his trial, wasn’t part of the media kickoff tour. It is doubtful that he will participate in preseason camp with the Hawks, starting next week. Last year, when a Los Angeles Kings defenseman was tried for domestic violence, he was kicked off the team even before the legal proceedings began. The league was also quick to emphasize that, regardless of the ruling, he would not be allowed to return. However, there are leagues that can, and need to, improve. The NFL suspended Ray Rice only after a video was released that showed him rendering his fiancée unconscious. Before the video surfaced, the NFL turned a blind eye.

Will the phenomenon of multimillion dollar athletes making terrible decisions ever go away? Frankly, probably not. As sports get more and more competitive and individual positions require even more honed and refined skill sets, becoming a professional athlete of the highest caliber will always require a lifetime of work. If anything, professional athletes of the future will be even further removed from societal norms and expectations than they are now. The pro athletes of tomorrow are the stellar athletes of today who spend countless hours every day practicing.

That isn’t objectively a bad thing, but it is up to the leagues and the organizations to educate their athletes consistently about the consequences of their actions. Maybe expectations should be made clear earlier in an athlete’s career, at the college level perhaps, where programs generally hold athletes to higher standards. Do away with programs whose athletes are constantly accused of crimes but rarely charged for them. Commend the schools that kick athletes off teams or rescind scholarships after repeat offenses. By no means should this remove the emphasis on athletes themselves being model citizens to begin with, but given how things have gone and continue to go, something should change.