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Cary's Corner For Love of the Game

Posted on Mar 18, 2012 10:00pm

An old colleague dropped by my new office today. She was gracious enough not to bring up the fact that my office square footage has recently shrunk considerably, so I returned the kind gesture by helping with her case. It concerned an incident that happened before my time at the State's Attorney's Office, when pro-hockey player Cameron Raker retaliated against another player for an injury caused in a previous game. Peter Florrick decided not to pursue charges during his first term as the league meted out punishment itself by suspending the player. Episodes of violence occur in a variety of sports, not just football and hockey. In December of last year, a brawl broke out at the end of the annual Xavier-Cincinnati basketball game in Ohio. Multiple players threw punches, and one player was stomped on after falling to the floor. Hamilton County D.A. Joe Deters investigated the possibility of bringing criminal charges against players from both teams, but ultimately decided to let the schools and the NCAA handle the punishment. Four players from each team were suspended. U.S. law is cloudy on the issue of violence in sports and courts have in most cases taken a hands-off approach to the matter, leaving punishment in the hands of the overseeing bodies of the respective sports. Over the years, the law has sought to define the line between violence within the context of the game and violence that is considered excessive. Five criteria have been established: 1) the nature of the game, 2) the nature of the act, 3) the degree of force used, 4) the degree of risk of injury, and 5) the state of mind of the accused. U.S. law regarding violence in sports has taken its lead from Canadian law and its handling of violence in hockey. While the past decade has seen increased prosecution for incidents within games, no professional athlete in the U.S. has ever been given jail time for an incidence of game violence. One of the most recent prosecutions in Illinois took place just over a decade ago and dealt with much younger athletes. A 16-year-old hockey player crosschecked a rival player after the final buzzer, sending him into the boards and paralyzing him from the waist down. The timing of the hit – seconds after the buzzer – was a critical part of the prosecution's case in proving that the hit was not part of the sporting event but rather premeditated violence. The youth eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge of battery and received probation. It was a sad case, with tragic effects for both players, who were each 15-years-old at the time of the incident. While I believe it was fair to bring criminal charges, it is a depressing irony that the professional athletes who model the same behavior to their young fans avoid any prosecution time and time again…