The Athlete’s success can cause problems with The Law

Apr 18, 2006 12:35 AM

We wrote, as recently as a week ago, about the arrogance and special status of The Athlete in America.

They have become a breed apart, frequently mean-spirited from the annoyance of adulation, and often downright criminal in their actions. The hero worship begins in high school and continues through college, and by the time the Athlete reaches the pros, he believes everything written or spoken about him.

During the week, two stories touching on all of this appeared in the nation’s press.

One was the sad tale of Sean Taylor, who two years ago was a first round draft choice of the Washington Redskins, lived up to that promise, and gained the name The Hitman because of his defensive skills as a Redskin safety. Now, instead of merely preparing for another NFL season, he faces up to 46 years, and at least 3, if he is found guilty of any of multiple charges of felony assault. Taylor is 23 years old, with a seven-year Redskin contract worth $18 million. This is not his first encounter with the law. He was arrested on drunken driving charges in Virginia two years ago. He should know about law and order, since his father is a chief of police in Florida.

Taylor’s present problems began in the little town of West Perrine, south of Miami. Taylor got into an argument, and then a fight, with 22-year-old Ryan Hill. Hill is not a pro football star, but he was an athlete, with a small A, in high school. He is 6-3 and weighs 273 pounds, and was not afraid of The Hitman until Taylor allegedly pulled a gun, accusing Hill of stealing his all-terrain vehicle. Shots were fired subsequently, with no one injured, and Hill filed assault charges. According to Hill, Taylor told him, "The police can’t touch me. I own this town."

Taylor has three lawyers. One of them, Ed Carhart, was quoted as saying, "It’s incredible that this young man would be facing three counts of incredible severity. He has so much to lose it’s mind boggling."

This is ironic, because while all of this was going on a lawyer named Howard Taylor was defending a different sort of athlete with a capital A, a young man named Eric Ledford, a brilliant harness racing driver in New Jersey who also has so much to lose it’s mind boggling. Drugs are involved in that case — not involving humans but race horses that Ledford’s father trained and Eric drove — and the state of New Jersey has imposed a 10-year suspension on both Ledfords, obviously considering the charges very serious. Lawyer Taylor, like his Florida legal counterpart Carhart, thinks it is incredible that a young man — in this case Ledford — is facing a penalty of such severity.

The guilt or innocence of Sean Taylor and Eric Ledford will be determined by courts, not newspaper columnists. But if either or both is found guilty in a court of law, that would be incredible. Capital A athletes usually have capital L lawyers, and courts sometime share the admiration of the man on the street for guys with muscles or very special skills in their athletic field.

As all of this was unfolding in Florida and New Jersey, smudging the already tarnished image of professional athletes in this country, a second major story was talking about the price of entertainment tickets, including those for New York Yankee games, or at least one Yankee game against the Devil Rays. The face value of tickets to that game ranged from $12 to $115, but if purchased online from StubHub.com, your tickets could have cost as much as $412. If Madonna’s upcoming July 3 Madison Square Garden concert is your cup of tea, face value of the tickets range from $64.50 to $354.50, but StubHub is selling them for $110 to $3,500. StubHub says it sold some $200 million in tickets last year, of an estimated $10 billion sold on what is graciously known as "the secondary market."

When I was a kid, that was known as scalping. But of course 23-year-old safeties didn’t get $18 million contracts in those days. That helps explain ticket prices, StubHub or elsewhere, and that, not potential jail time, is what is really incredible.

To find out who pays for all this, check your bathroom mirror.