In my opinion: It’s high time the media started giving athletes the right of due process

One of the more talked about sports stories of this summer was the Allen Iverson saga, which obviously wasn’t played out on the basketball court, but at his Philadelphia suburb mansion.

The media stopped at nothing to ensure that we had the full details of the episode, from the time, to the mood, to the clothing, or lack thereof. And when I say saga, this definitely became just that. It was alleged that Iverson was involved in a domestic scuffle with his wife Tawanna, whom we all know by now. This scuffle allegedly turned into Tawanna Iverson being thrown out of her own house in her birthday suit, after which she allegedly sought refuge at a cousin’s apartment. Later that evening, in a rage, looking for his wife and allegedly packing heat, Iverson forced his way into that same apartment – which, incidentally, he was paying the rent for – at which time he went on to threaten the two occupants of the apartment.

When word got out of the saga, Allen Iverson quickly became the biggest sports villain since OJ, with both the Philadelphia Police Department and the media placing the Iverson mansion under intense 24-hour surveillance. After several days of investigation were carried out by the police, all charges against Iverson were dropped.

Now I’m no private investigator, I’m not even a gumshoe, but does it not seem that the overwhelming lack of evidence against Iverson should have spared the sports world and the media all the trouble in the first place? Key pieces of evidence, like the fact that Iverson was never proven to even have had a gun, and that the alleged victim was so unnerved by the incident that he felt comfortable and composed enough to share a cigarette with Iverson’s uncle during the alleged incident, were given little mentionat all.

On top of the dubiousness of the crime scene, the victim chose to contact a lawyer before deciding to report the incident to the authorities over 15 hours later. And as if that all were not enough, two weeks into the case, in the midst of all sorts of intense media speculation and public fascination, the alleged victim decided to skip town.

Even though the details of the case remain confusing to sort through – all the backpedaling doesn’t make it any easier – and it is unclear as to how much Mr. Iverson was innocent of in the end, ultimately he was legally cleared of all charges. In fairness to Mr. Iverson, although no one will ever be calling him the next “Hurricane” Carter, after being treated as if he were the 20th hijacker, doesn’t someone owe him an apology? One would think so, but Philadelphia will win the NBA before Iverson receives any sort of apology. So despite turning out to be innocent, Iverson had to suffer the consequence of assumed guilt, from house arrest to house surveillance by three Philadelphia police squad cars – the whole nine yards. At the end of the day, it turns out that all Iverson may have been guilty of was engaging in an intensely heated domestic scuffle.

Though beating the rap is very satisfying for both Mr. Iverson and for his legions of hard core fans, the media has made sure that the many borderline Allen Iverson observers now certainly dislike him. The media apparently chooses to ignore “the innocent until proven guilty” rule where certain professional athletes are concerned. We see evidence of this type of media irresponsibility now emerging with the Chris Webber and the Michigan sports booster story. Members of the Webber family, including the man himself, have been federally indicted for allegedly lying about accepting over $100,000 in “assistance money” from that sports booster during Webber’s playing days at the University of Michigan. The part of the story you probably haven’t heard, however, is that the case still comes down to the Webber family’s word against that of a convicted felon – the media has conveniently chosen to ignore this.

The latest Randy Moss story is a bit more confusing than the previous two. For starters we are hearing two drastically different accounts between the accuser and the accused concerning what took place. The traffic official claims Moss allegedly ignored her clear instruction not to turn at a traffic intersection in downtown Minneapolis, at which point he proceeded to push her out of his path using his vehicle, and she apparently ended up on the hood of the car. Contrast that version of events with Moss’: the football star says he was in the process of turning when the officer started to blow her whistle intensely. By this point, Moss claims he couldn’t figure out what she wanted, furthermore, he had already committed too much to the turn. Moss says the official then called the police with her radio, and the next thing he knew he was in hand cuffs. Factor in the marijuana which the authorities later found in Moss’s car and we have the difference between an action film and a drama. The two accounts are clearly too disparate for any kind of middle ground to be reached. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us now to come to our own conclusions. Certainly, in the weeks to come there will be a hearing at which the facts will be exposed – until that happens we can’t help but choose sides. The media does have a choice, however, and no matter what the facts of the case ultimately turn out to be, the media will doubtlessly continue to make a complete villain of Randy Moss, despite the uncertainty of the facts, simply because it sells a better story.

In fairness, the media is in most respects doing its required job, but at some level ethics has to be applied. Ethics must come into questioning when these professional athletes like the Iversons, Webbers and Mosses are repeatedly portrayed as guilty by the media, often before the facts of their respective cases are even exposed. Although the facts may or may not ultimately prove their innocence, along the way these athletes always lose something that you usually can’t retrieve: a positive image. Unfortunately, this becomes even more detrimental for athletes like Iverson and Moss, who are already struggling enough just being themselves to keep any sort of a positive image going.