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Does morality have a place in sports?

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Not that we had much in the way of on topic items to discuss, but thanks to Matt Barnes and his (hopefully former) love interest, Silver Screen and Roll is now forced to ignore its main focus as a blog pertaining to basketball and discuss topics of a different nature: the law, the judiciary system, and an altogether different court, the court of public opinion.

If you haven't heard already, Matt Barnes was arrested yesterday on suspicion of domestic abuse, and maliciously obstructing the use of a telephone line (a seemingly innocuous add on that sounds worse and worse the more you think about it). Before we get to the topic at hand, let's get the facts (or lack thereof) straight: Sacramento Police (Barnes first mistake ... why was he staying/living in Sacramento?) responded to what was termed an "incomplete" 911 call and found Barnes and a woman with whom he had a "dating relationship" in the midst of of an altercation. Both Barnes and the woman reportedly showed visible injuries. Barnes was determined by police to be the primary aggressor and was taken into custody. Upon release after posting bail, Barnes used his entire arsenal of social media tools to proclaim his innocence. He spoke to a reporter, proclaiming himself the victim, and mentioning that "9 outa 10 times [in domestic abuse situations], the man gets arrested. On Twitter, he went philosophical, stating "DON'T LET YOUR EARS WITNESS, WHAT YOUR EYES DIDN'T SEE" HE will appear in court on Monday.

As of now, that's all we know. From this information, we can ably deduce ... nothing. Is Matt Barnes guilty? No. Is he innocent? No. Did something bad go down in the Barnes "household"? Yeah, I guess that stands up to reason. I'm more concerned with an altogether different question:

As Lakers fans, is it part of our "job description" to care?

This is hardly the first time we've been down this road, nor will it be the longest journey down the road we've taken. While not intending to make light of this situation in any way, I think we can all agree that the charge of rape which was levied against Kobe Bryant was more serious than this, both in terms of potential consequences and in terms of the vile nature of the supposed act. In fact, the Kobe Bryant rape accusation/trial was one of the most visible criminal trials involving an athlete I can remember since O.J. Simpson's murder trial, and the only major court case I can remember involving an athlete still active. All of this is to say, it's hardly the first time we've been faced with this particular ethical dilemma.

In light of that experience, ask yourself the following questions: Did your opinion of Kobe change when you first heard the news of his accusation? Did your ability to root for him decrease? Did it increase? Did the resolution of his trial (criminal charges dropped, civil charges settled out of court) make a difference? If your opinion of him did change, has time softened that change?

It's important to remember that Kobe was not proven guilty of anything worse than the adultery he admitted to, just as Barnes currently stands guilty only of being in the same place as someone who has been visibly injured in an apparent physical altercation. No one knows what happened except for Barnes and the woman involved. Which leads to the next important question: Does guilt even matter to your fandom?

My guess is the answer for a majority of people is "not really". Most people root for their team, and anybody who dons that team's uniform is included. We cheer for a player's athletic ability, performance, and skill, not because we like them as people. And yet, even as that is the generally accepted stance in a situation like this, it is a stance with a foundation in hypocrisy, because if we do happen to like a player as a person, that is definitely included in our opinion of the player. As hypocrisy goes, this is mild and completely acceptable. It's fine to understand that a good athlete can get a bonus by being a good person as well, when the opposite is not neccesarily true.

The issue I have is with the opposite form of that hypocrisy, the one that allows us to dislike a player from another team more because we dislike that player as a person, while giving players on our own team a free pass. Take, for example, the current villification of LeBron James. Very little of the animosity sent the King's way is basketball related. Is what he did worse, morally speaking, than what Barnes stands accused of? I certainly don't think so. If Barnes is convicted, will you reserve animosity for him as you do for LeBron (if you do for LeBron)?

In answer to the lead question, I personally don't think morality has much of a place in sports. We already know that many of the people who play sports profesionally are not saints. No matter who you root for, that pertains as much to the teams you like as the ones you don't. I can still appreciate Kobe Bryant's skill and tenacity without approving his behavior in that hotel room many years ago. I can appreciate Tiger Woods' golf ability without applauding Tiger Woods' problems with monogamy (or I could, if Tiger could still display that ability). I can still be in awe of LeBron James' athletic ability, despite the fact that I doubt I'd like to be his friend. As long as it doesn't effect what takes place on the field/court/pitch (though it often does), I don't think we should put much stock in these clashes between sports and morality.

Maybe you disagree, and that's cool. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I certainly don't think someone who cares about the morality of the players they cheer for is wrong to do so. All I ask for is consistency. Don't look the other way for players' indiscretions when they wear the uniform you like, while passing judgment on players who play for your team's rivals. Don't use morality as the crutch for why you despise certain players, and then ignore when morality casts your own players in a poor light. Whether you think morality should or should not have a place in sports, I think we can all agree that the double standard should have no place at all.

What do you think?

[Keep in mind, this is likely to be a touchy conversation, so please make sure to keep comments super respectful.]

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