NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 1, 2009

How did breaking sports rules become a federal offense?  For decades now, the growth of government power has turned everyday business transactions into potential crimes, allowing prosecutors to throw the book at whatever public figure it deems worthy of contempt.  And few categories of Americans arouse more passion, or fall from grace more quickly, than wayward star athletes, say William Anderson, associate professor of economics at Maryland's Frost State University, and Candice Jackson, an entertainment and sports law lawyer. 

Take the case of Logan Young.  Before his untimely death in 2006, he faced six months in federal prison for racketeering when his real offense was violating National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recruiting rules.  Young's conviction is just one example of this disturbing trend, says Anderson:

  • Former National Basketball Association (NBA) referee Tim Donaghy is serving a 15-month prison sentence for "conspiracy to engage in wire fraud" and "transmission of wagering information" across state lines.
  • Former Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones served six months in federal prison for making false statements about her personal use of performance-enhancing steroids.
  • All-time Major League Baseball (MLB) home run leader Barry Bonds was scheduled to begin trial in March on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
  • Perhaps most bizarre of all was the attempt of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to launch a federal probe of allegations that the New England Patriots videotaped the practices and defensive signals of opposing teams in 2006 and 2007.

But private sporting bodies should only have the ability to end an athlete's career, and federal authorities should only have the power to put an athlete in prison for years.  The line between the two has been blurred; yet, in a free society, those two roles should never be confused, say Anderson and Jackson.

Source: William L. Anderson and Candice E. Jackson, "Putting Stars Behind Bars," Reason, April 2009.

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