Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 8/14/12

A week before Chad Johnson’s highly publicized arrest for domestic violence this past Saturday, the wide receiver and former reality show star already held the distinction of being one of the NFL’s most polarizing figures

A week ago, football fans and media were debating whether Ochocinco was more likely to begin the season as the Dolphin’s #1 receiver or as one of this year’s more high-profile preseason roster cuts.

And even assuming Johnson made the Dolphins, the debate raged on as to whether Johnson’s outspoken and colorful personality would be compatible with or cancerous towards the Dolphins locker room.

Today, none of those questions matter anymore.

Chad Johnson’s current predicament is a great example of why our justice system is set up on the principle of “innocent until guilty.” (Image credit: Jeff Kern via Wikimedia Commons)

Damage Done

Johnson’s career as an entertainer, both on and off the field, is on life support.

Sunday evening the Dolphins released Johnson, less than 24 hours after his arrest for allegedly head butting his wife at their Florida home.

On Monday the television station VH1 followed suit by dropping Johnson’s reality show that they planned to air this coming fall.

For arguably the most receiver-needy NFL team to so quickly cut ties with Johnson is an indication that Johnson may have become “untouchable” to NFL teams in the same sort of way that Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco became untouchable to MLB teams. But whereas VH1 gave Canseco a chance to remake his image as a participant in the reality show “Celebrity Rehab,” they won’t afford Johnson with the same opportunity here.

And for a TV network whose highest rated shows include “Mob Wives” and “Basketball Wives,” that’s a pretty damning statement.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s reputation and personal life aren’t doing much better.

If you’ve read the full details of Johnson’s arrest, you either believe that Johnson headbutted his wife, Evelyn Rozada, or that Rozada headbutted Johnson and then fabricated a story to the police in order to get him arrested. Either way, you’d probably agree that Johnson’s relationship with Rozada has been fractured beyond the point of return.

But no matter which version of events ultimately proves to be true, Johnson will forever carry the stigma of “wife beater,” which is a designation reserved for the lowest forms of scum in our society–and rightfully so. The stigma, however, is even worse for someone like Johnson, who, until his arrest, had been able to rebut critics of his behavior by his lack of a criminal behavior. So much for that…

So to summarize, in the past 48 hours, Johnson has had the following ripped away from him:

  1. His professional career
  2. His future career (as an entertainer)
  3. His marriage
  4. His personal image
  5. His reputation

Having said that, let me propose a new subject for debate about Chad Johnson: Should we feel bad for him?

Should We Feel Bad For Chad Johnson?

Before you answer this question, I need you to do me a favor: assume that it is three months from now and Chad Johnson has just been acquitted of domestic battery charges.

Do you feel bad for him now?

Now do me another favor: replace Chad Johnson in this scenario with someone you’ve never met before–let’s call this person “Bob.”

You happen to come across Bob’s story as you’re reading the local newspaper and you learn that in the not so distant past, Bob was arrested for allegedly striking his wife. At the time of his arrest, Bob had a job as a violinist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which happens to be one of the most well-respected Symphony Orchestras in the world. The job paid reasonably well and Bob genuinely enjoyed it.

After his arrest, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra quickly fired Bob in order to avoid the negative attention that might arise from the stigma of Bob’s arrest. The article then goes on to say that in his trial, a jury found that Bob was “not guilty” of the domestic assault charges. Despite the not-guilty verdict, however, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will not be rehiring Bob since they had already moved on to another violinist they are just as excited about.

Furthermore, Bob has had a very hard time finding work either as a violinist or a violin teacher, presumably because of his past arrest, which is accessible to all potential employers who can perform a Google search.

And one more thing: Bob, whom the article quotes as having been “madly in love with his wife” before this incident, is now divorced.

Do you feel bad for Bob?

There is a very important connection between Bob and Johnson: in the same way that everything you know about Bob is based upon what you read in the above paragraph, everything the average NFL fan knows about Chad Johnson is based upon a collection of news stories, edited television segments, and unsubstantiated second-hand gossip.

So do you really know Chad Johnson?

If so, you must know that Johnson was left by his mother when he was five and largely abandoned by his father during his adolescence.

That Johnson is, by all accounts, a wonderful father to his four children.

That Johnson has been and continues to be one of the most charitable professional athletes over the past decade and that many of his “self-promoting stunts” such as riding a bull or racing a horse, were actually events undertaken for the specific purpose of raising money for charity.

That during Johnson’s tenure in Cincinnati, he would routinely buy large groups of tickets from the team in order to prevent league imposed “black-outs” and then give the tickets away for free.

Former Dolphins teammate, Karlos Dansby, who actually does know Chad Johnson, pointed out that Johnson doesn’t even “drink” or “smoke” and that “when it comes to football, he’s all about football. That’s his life.”

More importantly Dansby didn’t buy Lozada’s accusations that led to Johnson’s arrest, stating simply “that’s not Chad….if anybody knows Chad, that’s not Chad.”

***

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Earlier, I asked you to assume that Johnson was innocent of the domestic assault charge. My purpose in doing this wasn’t to try and put you in a hypothetical mindset where Johnson could possibly be innocent, but rather to put you in the mindset required my law: that Johnson is currently innocent and will remain so until he is proven to be guilty.

When a person in this country is charged with a crime, they are considered “innocent until proven guilty,” and in order for them to be found guilty, the government prosecutor must prove their guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” While entire books have been written about these two phrases, an important takeaway from this should be that from the law’s perspective, Chad Johnson is, as of today, not guilty.

More importantly, it’s not Chad Johnson’s responsibility to prove that he is guilty, but rather the government’s job to prove that he is. And there’s a very specific reason that the law is structured to give criminal defendants as much of the benefit of the doubt as possible: it’s because there is simply too much at stake not too.

The law appreciates the damning effect that a criminal prosecution can have on a person’s personal and professional life as well as the stigma that attaches to it. So in order to insulate criminal defendants from these potentially devastating effects, the law requires that these people be viewed as innocent until there is “no reasonable doubt,” that the person isn’t.

This is ultimately done, in order to avoid the regrettable situation where a person can have their career, their reputation, and possibly even their personal relationships ruined unjustifiably.

So now, I ask you again–do you feel bad for Chad Johnson?

Do you feel bad for a man who has already lost everything before even being officially charged with a a crime (let alone convicted)?

I feel bad for Chad Johnson, and I’ll continue to feel bad for him until the moment he is found guilty (if that day should come). But I guess to the rest of our society he is already guilty…at least until he’s proven innocent.


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