Jet defenseman Dustin Byfuglien’s legal troubles came to a surprisingly quick ending on Monday. Byfuglien’s lawyers reached a deal with Minnesota prosecutors which lead to Byfuglien pleading guilty to a careless boating infraction. He was sentenced to 2 days of community service. The charge was related to improper lighting on his boat.
Byfuglien also faced charges of impaired boating and refusing to submit to a drug-screening test. Both charges were dismissed as a result of the plea bargain.
The deal eliminated the need for what would have been an imminent jury trial. Either Byfuglien did not commit said offenses or prosecutors felt they didn’t have enough evidence to go to trial with.
What I found to be more troubling than the entire legal episode was the reaction of the public locally, more specifically Jets fans and even the media in Winnipeg.
Judging by the commentary on news and sports sites it seems that somehow virtually everyone knew Byfuglien was innocent. How they knew this, given none of these people were actually there to witness the incident, is mystifying. At the very least it seemed Winnipeggers wanted Byfuglien to be found innocent or be penalized as little as possible, regardless of guilt.
Media often referred to Byfuglien as ‘Big Buff’ when discussing his legal difficulties. It seemed to be far too sympathetic a tone when discussing a serious legal situation. It hinted at a rather informal or cozy relationship with the Jets defenseman. Either that, or they didn’t consider the charges to be very serious.
Everyone who is any kind of a Jets fan would hope for a positive outcome, but not at the expense of justice. If Byfuglien were guilty of driving a boat impaired, and we still don’t know for certain that he wasn’t, all of us should have wanted him to face the same kind of penalties anyone else would have. Even if that meant Byfuglien would have trouble crossing the border. This speaks to the sometimes over-inflated influence and adoration athletes receive from the paying customers.
Let’s not forget the place sport occupies in the scheme of things. Sometimes it might seem like your favourite team or sport is of critical importance, but when it comes right down to it, it’s just a bunch of big boys playing a game. Just because a guy plays sports professionally doesn’t mean we should want him to ‘beat the rap’ anymore than the next guy. He might be your hero but that doesn’t automatically mean he is one.