Is It Appropriate To Cheer For Athletes Who Do Bad Things?

Where's the line?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Clippers traveled to play the Dallas Mavericks for the first time since DeAndre Jordan's wild free agency debacle. After agreeing to sign with Dallas over the summer in principle, a much-publicized tug-of-war began between Clippers and Mavericks players when it became clear Jordan wasn't totally sure about committing. Eventually, he was essentially held hostage in his own home until he signed a contract extension with the Clippers, demonstrating his apparent lack of personal willpower.

Needless to say, Dallas fans were initially very excited to welcome the big man to the Mavericks, then incredibly shocked when he went back on his word. As anyone who's ever been spurned does, they took it personally and became rather upset. So when the Clippers came to town, fans wasted no time in raining boos down upon him. In general it was all rather harmless, if embarrassing for Jordan, who likely didn't need a reminder that he could have handled the situation better.

However, ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy made a hard-hitting point during the game in reference to the booing, calling out fans for setting a double standard with such disgust for Jordan, but finding excuses for "someone like Greg Hardy."

Said Van Gundy:

"I would also like the Dallas fans to acknowledge the sheer lunacy and absurdity that they're booing DeAndre Jordan tonight, and they'll be cheering someone like Greg Hardy on Sunday. That, to me, is absurd. All this guy did was change his mind."

Hardy is a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL who was arrested for assaulting Nicole Holder, his ex-girlfriend, a year and a half ago. He did end up being convicted of assault in a bench trial, but the charges were dismissed on appeal and Holder has been quiet ever since the immediate aftermath of the incident. Hardy maintains his innocence "until proven guilty," and although he missed significant time from the NFL, is playing consistently at a high level this year.

So this all begs the question: Is it OK to cheer for him?

Sadly, Hardy is not the first high-profile athlete to be at the center of a domestic violence issue. Last season, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was revealed to have physically beaten and dragged his fiance, of which the NFL had knowledge and still failed to hand down an appropriate punishment for. Rice is no longer playing football and currently working for his second chance, but if he ever gets it, how would fans of his new team react? How should they react?

The ridiculous punishment system of the NFL notwithstanding, athletes who have been involved with horrible acts like domestic abuse should in theory be viewed with the same negativity as any similar transgressor. Van Gundy's point about the double standard of booing DeAndre Jordan and cheering when Greg Hardy makes a big play rings very loud and true though—isn't that a ludicrous way to behave in the context of a sports game? Or should we separate a player's off-field persona from what he does when he's at work?

There's perhaps no "right" answer to the question, even if there is a clear moral divide. In general, if you're passionate about your sports team, you want them to win as a team, and many individual efforts go into that win. Dallas Cowboys fans shouldn't feel bad for wanting their team to win even if one of the players responsible for that collective effort is blatantly guilty of domestic abuse. At the same time, it would likely be preferred if Hardy at least showed some remorse instead of defiance throughout this whole scandal. Whether or not we will ever know exactly what happened, it's hard to give the guy the benefit of the doubt when he seems to think he's the victim.

Naturally, if professional sports leagues got their act together when it comes to appropriately dealing with athletes who clearly demonstrate themselves to be horrible role models off the field, this dilemma of whether or not it's OK to cheer for them wouldn't be much of an issue.

At the very least though, Van Gundy's right: as a fan, make sure to be aware who you cheer and boo for and why. Sometimes there are bigger things at play than just winning and losing.

Cover image: Pixabay