Athletes providing the case load, while we sit on our coaches and absorb
By Michael Ventre
Updated: 12:57 a.m. ET Aug. 16, 2007
For a while there, I considered going to law school. Iâ€™m glad I didnâ€™t. It wasnâ€™t because of the usual lawyer-bashing reasons, either. It just seemed like most of the people I knew who went into law got buried.
If I tried to call a lawyer pal to say, â€œHey, letâ€™s go have a beer after work,â€ he would reply with something like, â€œAfter work?!â€ Clearly, thereâ€™s never any â€œafter workâ€ when youâ€™re an attorney. Thereâ€™s always work.
The days lead into weeks, which lead into months, then years. But the piles of papers on the desks of lawyers never seem to get smaller. They stay at the office until late at night, eat take-out, getting a few hours of sleep, and then wake up early to return to the office. If they keep it up for 20 or 30 years, they might make partner.
In my law fantasies, I imagined myself as a champion of the downtrodden, not a storage facility for folders and documents. I wanted to debate the law, not argue over which copy machine at Kinkoâ€™s is best.
Fortunately, myself and other armchair legal eagles now have a place in which to indulge our enthusiasm for the law without having to deal with the expense and inconvenience of all that study and work:
The world of sports.
At some point in recent years the thin line between Barry Bonds and Nancy Grace got a lot thinner. An episode of â€œLaw and Orderâ€ is now almost indistinguishable from â€œSportsCenter.â€ Many of the front-office experts in charge of scrutinizing contract extensions are now doing the same for indictments.
It takes a keen legal mind to keep up. In many cases, the average schmoe embedded in his sofa cushions glued to the tube while chomping on a slice of pizza with extra meat and moving only when nature insists is just as capable of providing legal analysis as some of the talking heads who have turned the legal perils of athletes into a cottage industry for themselves.
Think about it. You, the party of the first part, shall be considered an authority on many of the cases that arise because, while you donâ€™t have a law degree, you listen to and absorb the opinions of many who do. These days, you canâ€™t avoid it.
Take the Michael Vick case. Iâ€™m not a lawyer. Iâ€™m not brilliant, although Iâ€™m perfectly willing to debate anyone who disagrees. Yet I knew exactly what was going to happen. Vick will have to plea bargain, because the feds obviously have him dead to rights.
It wasnâ€™t a difficult case to analyze. The indictment was posted online. Federal prosecutors have a 95 percent success rate. They donâ€™t indict unless theyâ€™re sure they can win.
There were three witnesses ready to testify against Vick. And you just knew that Vickâ€™s co-defendants would flip, one by one, as the sobering punishment scenarios were laid out to them. If Sammy â€œThe Bullâ€ Gravano was ready to risk his life to rat on John Gotti, then it wasnâ€™t a stretch to guess that Tony Taylor would turn on Vick.
With all that working against him, it became a business deal, with the federal government holding all the leverage. Vick has little choice but to give in.
See? That was easy. I didnâ€™t have to deal with a pesky bar exam to assess that situation. Thereâ€™s just so much legal theory being discussed in the sports forum these days that I could probably get accepted to any law school in the land merely by scribbling across the top of my application, â€œI follow sports.â€
All you have to be able to do is speak the language. For instance, here is what Vickâ€™s lead attorney, Billy Martin, said after his client was first arraigned on July 26: â€œWe will look into these allegations and we look forward to the opportunity to being able to walk inside this courtroom saying to the world that Michael Vick is innocent.â€ What observers of the legal process interpreted that to mean: â€œWe have no chance, so Iâ€™m going to toss out some defiant rhetoric and then hope I have time to cash this big check before I have to explain to Mike that heâ€™s going to jail.â€
Vick is just the case of the moment. It seems every other day some sports figure is embroiled in yet another legal entanglement.
Bonds is almost a law school course unto himself. He is not only being investigated for possible perjury before a grand jury in the BALCO case, but now he has hired two Bay Area attorneys to pursue anyone he thinks has made a false statement about him. Bonds has probably spent more time talking to lawyers in one week than Jeffrey Toobin spends in a year.
While sports fans argue the validity of Bondsâ€™ crusade against his critics, more cases are piling up on their dockets. This week former major leaguer Jose Offerman was charged with two counts of second-degree assault for allegedly hitting an opposing teamâ€™s pitcher and catcher with a bat. Right away, if Iâ€™m defending him, I file a motion to dismiss, and I use his career as evidence that he couldnâ€™t hit anything.
The Tim Donaghy case came and went as quickly as a bad wager. I knew it. The feds again. They donâ€™t make dirty referee allegations unless they have something juicy on him. He wasnâ€™t going to trial. Donaghyâ€™s guilty plea was such a sure thing that even David Stern might have bet on it.
Now a member of the Rutgers womenâ€™s basketball team is suing Don Imus because she claims his now-infamous comments damaged her reputation. Do you want to know how this turns out? Both sides will posture in a conference room, then a check will quietly be issued because it will be preferable to going through that public mess again.
You donâ€™t have to have a law degree to stay afloat on this wave of jurisprudence in sports. All you need is a TV, a sofa, a remote, some tasty snacks, and some common sense. The athletes will provide the case load.
Michael Ventre writes regularly for MSNBC.com and is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey