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Saturday, January 12, 2008
Should Role Model Status Influence Sentencing Decisions?

I woke up this morning and read a very disturbing quote made by Federal Judge Kenneth Karas who gave Marion Jones the maximum sentence recommended under Jones' plea deal:
The use of performance-enhancing drugs "sends all the wrong messages to all who follow the athlete's every move," Karas said, apparently referring to children. "Athletes in society have an elevated status. They entertain, they inspire and, perhaps most important, they serve as role models."
Wow! I can't ever recall a situation in which "role model" status of the defendant had any impact on a judge's sentencing decision. And there is good reason for that.

First, role model status is entirely subjective and personal. Some people have role models who are close family members. Some consider their role models to be firemen, teachers and doctors. Why do we insist that athletes are in fact role models to our children? Just because my kid's favorite baseball player is Manny Ramirez and he wears Manny's jersey, doesn't mean that Manny is his role model. My kid doesn't want to be like Manny nor do everything that Manny does. If Manny is ever implicated in wrong doing, my kid will simply say "that's really sad and unfortunate." Regarding external forces that have an influence on my kids, athletes taking steroids or lying about taking steroids is not even remotely on my list of concerns, which includes among other things exposure to violence/sex on television, video games and surfing the internet. In any event, I certainly don't want judges deciding which criminal defendants they "deem" to be role models.

Second, even if Jones is in fact a role model, what relevance does it have with regards to a sentencing decision?! Do teachers and firemen receive harsher sentences because many consider them to be role models? Role model status influencing public opinion is one thing, but influencing judges imposing prison sentences is another....


Unbelievable, isn't it Rick? Ihave never seen a Judge so blatantly declare the wrong reason for doing what he was doing.
Alan Milstein

OpenID amilst -- 1/12/2008 12:28 PM  

It's egregious. The judge felt that lying about steroid usage was 3X worse than lying about her knowledge of the check fraud scheme -- she was sentenced to six months on the steroids case and two months on the check fraud case. All in the name of sending a message to athletes who have abused drugs and overlooked the values of "hard work, dedication, teamwork and sportsmanship."

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 1/12/2008 4:26 PM  

The merits of PED and steroid use are one thing, but do use 'role model' status to influence a decision is completely out of line. I'd love to hear that played out not only for those who work for the 'greater good', but for musicians, actors and actresses who have also attained a certain role model status. Of course, because athletes (fairly or not) have always been held in a different realm compared to others - including the said entertainers - many of the unfortunate circumstances they encounter will always be scrutinized and judged more severely.

Blogger Jason Clinkscales -- 1/13/2008 9:29 AM  

Been looking for a transcript of the judge's statement since one article said he talked for 20 minutes but haven't yet found it.

But I can't think of a context adjustment that would make saying that Marion Jones overlooked the values of "hard work, dedication, teamwork and sportsmanship" rational or intelligent, anything but ass-holish.

No matter what drugs Marion Jones took or when, she didn't overlook 3 of these 4 values. She worked as hard as physically possible (and may have used drugs to work harder than physically possible). She was very dedicated - taking PEDs is the opposite of being a non-dedicated recreational drug abusing, beer-swigging, Big Mac-eating hedonist. As a runner, her teamwork responsibility was to run as fast as she possibly could, and that she did.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/13/2008 11:10 PM  

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