July 29 - The Rush To Judgment
ESPN.com was touting five hours of coverage of the Michael Vick indictment on its networks Thursday
Right below that were two scrolling modules talking about the NBA referee scandal.
And, if you looked hard enough, in small type, the fourth headline in their news section, right below
headlines on alleged felons Pacman Jones and Odell Thurman, plus one of the Pat Tillman cover-
up, was this nugget:
“Duke DA apologizes, admits ’no credible evidence’”
Haven’t we learned our lesson? Shouldn’t people, and particularly media members, be more mindful
of the plethora of mistakes that were made on all fronts during the Duke lacrosse scandal? Is a rush
to judgment, while easy and, in many cases juicy, really the tack that should be taken?
Let’s look back at the repercussions from the knee-jerk reaction at Duke that the players were guilty
the moment the charges were filed. A school’s lacrosse season was cancelled (not to mention the
fact that the team was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time and was a serious national title
contender). Three players had their names besmirched and reputations ruined for the rest of their
lives. The specter of the case, regardless of the eventual outcome, will hover above these men
forever. And every media member contributed to these never-healing scars. Where, exactly did it get
the media, though? Headlines? Sure. The chance to trot out “experts”? Definitely. But at what price?
Has anyone read a single newspaper story or seen a single TV report saying where a media outlet
has said, “Hey, we were wrong about these guys”? I know I haven’t. Now, Reade Seligmann, David
Evans and Colin Finnerty have to deal with being dragged through the mud for the rest of their lives,
while the media just move on to the next juicy story. And the facts, and apologies (like the one today)
end up getting buried and overlooked.
Oh, there is juice, too.
Hello, Michael Vick, NFL poster boy. Of course, what, exactly has been proven here? Nothing. Will
something be proven? Quite possibly. The last time I checked, though, we are innocent until PROVEN
guilty. A simple indictment shouldn’t be enough any more to decisively punish someone. What,
exactly, is PETA’s reasoning for picketing anywhere they can to get Nike to drop Vick as a
spokesman? He has been charged, sure, but, as we have learned, that means nothing at this point. If
he is found guilty, I don’t think PETA will be needed for the proper non-legal issues to be resolved. He
WILL be dropped by Nike. He WILL be banned from the NFL.
But what if he is found innocent? It can happen, you know. At this juncture in the Duke fiasco,
everyone had the three players drawn and quartered. I do agree that he should not be present at
training camp, but for his teammate’s benefit. They have a season to prepare for and Vick’s presence
would be too large of a distraction thanks to the media horde that would inevitably follow him around. I
felt the same way when Kobe Bryant was going through his rape accusations. In no way is this be an
admission of guilt, but instead, it would be a recognition that the tentacles of the ordeal are much
farter-reaching than can be controlled, and would impact too many innocent bystanders should Vick
be in camp. So, I applaud NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to ban Vick from camp. It isn't
about his guilt – it is about the well-being, both on and off the field, of his teammates.
As for his guilt, as appealing as it may be for the media to jump on this and have Vick headed to the
electric chair, that is still to be decided, regardless of who is saying what right now. Nothing makes a
better headline than a star in court. Just ask Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. However, it might be time
for the media to take that refresher course in facts and processes, before another name gets
dragged through the mud unnecessarily.
Somewhere, three former Duke lacrosse players must be thinking that what could have been their
legacy is being ignored once again.