Does a student athlete’s talent or prospect have anything to do with how they are punished for breaking the law?
In light of recent charges filed against a Penn State star wrestler for a DUI incident on Nov. 13, many are questioning the standard that athletes are held to when it comes to criminal charges. The Penn State wrestler most recently charged with DUI was suspended from the team last month for a month-long period. Pat Donghia, Assistant Communications Director for Penn State wrestling, confirmed this suspension was a result of the DUI incident.
But this is hardly the first Penn State athlete to face legal trouble after getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.
Several athletes have been charged for driving under the influence over the years, and the fates of these athletes have varied. From football players to the former Nittany Lion mascot, the standard for punishment differs. All Penn State athletes are required to sign several documents pertaining to substance and alcohol abuse when they first join the team, these papers detailing the consequences and procedures to be taken when an athlete is found to be under the influence or dependent on drugs or alcohol.
According to the Penn State University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics Drug Free Athletics Program, athletes who are found to be abusing drugs or alcohol “must participate in and complete the Substance Abuse educational program” and may be subject to team suspension. However, on the athlete’s second violation, they are required to be suspended from the team for a minimum of seven days.
But even these hoops that have been put in place to deter student athletes from things like DUI differ depending on the athlete or coach.
For instance, the former Nittany Lion mascot James Sheep was charged and convicted with DUI in 2008, resulting in his suspension from his duties as the lion for a full year. However, in the case of former football player Johnnie Troutman who was charged with DUI in January 2011, his status on the team remained legitimate enough to qualify him for the NFL draft.
Troutman is currently a member of the San Diego Chargers.
Granted, each DUI circumstance is different, and in some cases there are several charges filed that could affect the fate of an athlete. But when it comes to driving a vehicle — in a town as walkable as State College — while drunk, we want to see some consistency when the hammer comes down.
In the real world, a DUI charge could cost you your job, your license and huge fines. In the worst instances, it could severely injure or kill someone. Being in college, while often an excuse for stupid behavior, is no excuse for getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking. When it comes to sanctions for DUI infractions, all students — both athletes and non-athletes — should be treated the same by the university.