Due process is a legal phrase referring to the accepted standards and practices that ensure fairness in legal matters. Broadly, it is a requirement that the government respect an individual’s rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
However, these same protections are not always in place when it comes to treatment by the public and other parties. If you are an athlete in the public eye and are accused of wrongdoing, there is no requirement that your peers, coaches, critics or fans must wait until an investigation or trial to hand down a punishment or decide whether you are guilty of an offense.
The court of public opinion
When an athlete is arrested or under investigation for misconduct, it often isn’t long until a report shows up in the news. These stories can sometimes be based upon unsubstantiated claims made by others, inaccurate details and false assumptions that can instantly affect readers and their opinions. When these stories are initially reported, many people won’t reserve judgment until the situation is resolved. Instead, the public makes decisions based on how they feel.
What this means for an athlete is that his or her reputation, career opportunities and image can all be damaged based on a single allegation, even before an investigation, and even if an athlete is ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
Addressing the public perception is difficult enough, but athletes must also deal with preemptive – and sometimes unwarranted – punishments. Depending on the alleged offense, contract agreements and specific league rules, an athlete can face suspension while a case is pending. He or she may also be fined or released from a team or endorsement contract. These penalties can result in severe professional and financial losses.
Tackling procedural problems
Some sports are working to mitigate potential fallout for athletes based on unfounded allegations. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, for instance, recently changed its policies for announcing potential violations of the anti-doping program. Now, the UFC will only announce a doping violation after the case is fully resolved.
Changing public opinion is incredibly difficult; sometimes it’s impossible. However, challenging problems with the process of administering penalties is not impossible when you have the help of an experienced attorney. With legal counsel, athletes, coaches and anyone else in the sports industry facing unfair professional or criminal penalties can protect themselves and their rights.