This Week's Lesson: Off-Field Conduct is Subject to Discipline, Too

This week has been especially busy in the legal world of sports, to say the least. Excluding the last story, one thing all the following stories have in common is that each involves repercussions for off-field conduct. In case you missed them, here are a handful (five, get it?) of the highlights so you can impress your friends at weekend tailgates with your immeasurable knowledge of current events:

Olympian Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of murdering his girlfriend, but the judge found that his negligence rose to the level required for "culpable homicide."

After months of trial and waiting, Judge Thokozile Masipa arrived at a verdict. She found that Pistorius did not intend to kill Reeva Steenkamp as a premeditated murder charge and a second-degree murder charge require. Today, though, she found him guilty of "culpable homicide," which is similar to "manslaughter" in the United States. Notably, South African trials are not jury trials; Judge Masipa reached the verdict herself and has discretion to determine the sentence. She said that whether Pistorius subjectively believed the person behind the bathroom door was an intruder is irrelevant, he could have taken other actions before shooting (which he did after the shooting, like calling security), and that an intention to shoot is not the same as an intention to kill. Additionally, Judge Masipa added that he "acted too hastily and used excessive force," which clearly led to the conclusion that he was negligent under what is known as the reasonable person standard. As the judge put it, Pistorius had "reasonable time to reflect, to think and to conduct himself reasonably." She used an objective standard with his subjective disabilities to find that "a reasonable person with the accused's disabilities in the same circumstances would [not] have fired four shots into that small toilet cubicle."

A premeditated murder conviction in South Africa carries with it a minimum 15 year imprisonment sentence while a culpable homicide conviction carries with it a maximum 15 year imprisonment sentence but no minimum sentence. Tomorrow, Pistorius will hear Judge Masipa read his sentence. My guess is that based on the lengthy opinion she read, he will serve a significant amount of jail time because even the disputed facts (e.g., leading up to the shots being fired through the door) have merit, though I believe this is the familiar case where the prosecution's evidence was weak (e.g., text conversations showing the couple was arguing), and it did not do its job.

Ray Rice's two game sanction quickly turned into a termination of employment and indefinite suspension after TMZ released footage from inside the elevator.

Everyone knows the facts of this case by now and that, as the independent party, a former FBI director is leading the investigation into the NFL's handling of the matter. Since this story is evolving by the hour, I will point out some questions raised and welcome discussion on them:

  • Did Goodell overstep his contractual boundaries and commissioner powers in suspending Rice from the NFL indefinitely?
  • If present in his contract, what role did a "morals" or "morality" clause truly play in the Baltimore Ravens letting Rice go?
  • Is the investigation into the NFL's handling of the matter "independent" enough? All three parties appear to have ties to NFL profits.
  • If the NFL executive office did receive the video footage in April, should Goodell take the blame for the negligence? If he is found of negligence or wrongful conduct, would he step down, step aside, or would the NFL owners vote him out or keep him in?
  • Why hasn't the NFL sent the NFLPA the letter stating the basis for Rice's discipline when the disciplinary process requires it? It is the first step before the NFLPA can decide whether to represent Rice in an appeal and to discuss with Rice what action to take.

Penn State's football team is bowl eligible, effective immediately.

While the rest of the nation was becoming more and more outraged with the NFL/Rice situation, the NCAA was able to sneak in an executive decision of its own to lessen the penalty arising from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. It announced Monday that it was lifting Penn State's four-year postseason ban, applicable this season, and allowing the university to utilize all 85 scholarships in the 2015-16 year. The NCAA's actions, I would argue, are appropriate because everybody undeniably felt heated upon hearing the truth of the allegations, and in reflection, penalizing the football program and its future members for something one man did unrelated to Penn State football was fueled by those emotions and a bit excessive. Compare this case to the sanctions the NCAA placed on USC in 2010. Also, Penn State did have a $60,000,000 fine

The NFL gave the NFLPA a drug policy proposal on Tuesday, but the NFLPA has yet to vote.

The two sides have been talking and negotiating for weeks to ratify the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFLPA members and the NFL, with a large focus on ratifying the drug policy. For the past three years, they have been developing a HGH testing program that would take effect right away, but the sides have been at the negotiating table arguing over details of the actual testing procedures. Other changes may include heightening the tolerance for marijuana testing and re-categorizing amphetamines use (e.g., Molly and Ecstasy use - here's looking at you, Wes Welker) as substance abuse rather than a more severe performance-enhancing drug violation.

Officials concluded the investigation of NASCAR Driver Tony Stewart's crash resulting in Kevin Ward Jr.'s death.

According to the Ontario County Sheriff, Philip Povero, his office has finished its investigation into the crash at Canadaigua Motorsports Park on August 9 where Stewart's car hit and killed Ward. The file is now in the district attorney's hands for his review. Povero said that nothing at this stage points to criminal conduct. Unfortunately for Stewart, it is still possible for him to be charged with second-degree manslaughter, which requires recklessness, or negligent manslaughter under New York law. Look for an announcement late next week on the next steps the state will take.