What Happened To “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”?
I have four cats, so I don’t think I need to get into how repulsive the charges against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick are, but with all the attention being paid to his legal troubles; the Barry Bonds issue; and the Duke lacrosse case, I have to ask what has happened to people being innocent until proven guilty?
Michael Vick has pleaded not guilty to the dog fighting charges; but he finds himself as a pariah at his job and in his personal life. The Falcons have told him not to report to camp; the NFL is weighing whether or not to discipline him; Nike has suspended his endorsement deal; and the sports card company Donruss is no longer using his image on their packages and cards. Whatever he’s accused of, Michael Vick has a right to earn a living; and what happens if he’s exonerated? Will he somehow recoup the money and image losses he’s taken as a result of this? Regardless of anyone’s individual feelings about the charges that have been levied against him, he’s being found guilty immediately without having told his side of the story or even had a trial. The same thing is going on in baseball with Barry Bonds.
I think everyone who has looked at Bonds from the 80s and 90s and compared his body and his numbers with the beefed up, power-hitting machine that he became realizes that the overwhelming likelihood is that he didn’t do it that natural way; but the fact is that he’s never tested positive for any PEDs. And no one seems to be taking into account the complicity of baseball itself in this whole mess. With all due respect, Bud Selig doesn’t seem to be the brightest guy in the world, but even he had to realize that the cartoonish bodies and the absurd home run numbers being posted since the late 90s had more to do with PEDs than with juiced balls, bandbox ballparks and bad pitching. Now baseball is on a soapbox railing against PEDs and Selig debated for months about being present when Bonds gets close to Hank Aaron’s record. It’s pure hypocrisy. It was fine for the home run to regenerate fan interest in baseball after the canceled World Series of 1994, but now when a likable hero like Hank Aaron’s record is threatened by a misanthrope like Bonds, Bonds is vilified without ever having been proven to have done anything wrong, despite anecdotal and visual evidence.
With the internet, cell phones, 24-hour sports talk radio and ESPN News, the way information is disseminated is forever changed. No longer does it take until the next day’s newspaper or the evening newscast to learn the sordid details of a big news story or scandal; but that works both ways. The Duke lacrosse case was an example of people rushing to judgment and finding innocent people guilty before there was even a hearing of any kind. Just as a positive story spreads within seconds, a negative one does as well; and there’s no such thing as innocent until proven guilty because once a series of accusations and charges are in the public eye, they never go away even if they’re proven to be untrue.