In defence of Pacman

JORDAN HEATH-RAWLINGS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

So, NBA referee Tim Donaghy is guilty, and sorry. Leafs winger Mark Bell is also guilty, and very sorry. Even quarterback/alleged dogfighter Michael Vick is reportedly looking for the best image-friendly way to say, "My bad."

It doesn't excuse any of their crimes, but it will likely get these athletes and referee some leniency from the courts.

It smacks of cynicism, but how many people out there believe that all three of the accused above actually sat down, examined the weight of their crimes on their consciences and decided to enter guilty pleas because it was simply the right thing to do?

Are there any sports fans on the continent who believe that the supposed crystal-clear government cases against Donaghy and Vick had nothing to do with their reported decisions?

Of course not. Which is why, as nasty as police reports allege he can be, I can at least grudgingly respect Adam "Pacman" Jones for his insistence that, in the February incident at a Las Vegas nightclub that currently has him suspended from the NFL and facing criminal charges, "I never touched nobody in that (club)."

At least Jones -- who will miss at least 10 games this season, and likely more -- isn't afraid to claim his innocence and fight for it. It is, after all, his right to do so.

Pacman has been in trouble with the law before. He's a bad egg, as they used to say, no question about it. But he's also a human being, accused of a crime by the police, and not yet convicted of anything.

It is also true that he, regardless of his level of athletic talent, has made stupid decisions in his life. But if Jones wants to deal with the loss of his NFL salary by taking a side gig with a professional wrestling company and attempting to break into the music industry, that is his prerogative.

A man has to make his money somehow, and Jones was suspended by the league merely for being charged with a crime and having a checkered past. It's a slippery slope from that to suspending players over what they have reportedly said or done.

While it's absolutely true that athletes too often get away with behaviour that would not be tolerated by those of us who can't dunk a ball or sack a quarterback, it's also true that it is unfair of us to hold them to a higher moral standard.

The pressure that athletes like Bell and Vick face to plead guilty -- to claim bad judgement, to take their lumps, apologize, shut the hell up and get it over with -- can be enormous. As public faces of their sport, owners, agents, league officials and even teammates are very aware of the bad publicity off-field problems can bring to the league.

But if Jones believes he's innocent, he deserves his day in court, without pressure from his team or the NFL or anyone else to make the whole thing go away.

It's his right, whether or not he's a nice guy. After all, you or I would want the same treatment.


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