Monday, May 28, 2007

Accountability and Precedent

This doesn't seem like a particularly appropriate topic to bring up on Memorial Day, but darnit, it's what's on my mind right now. As most of you know, Ryan Perrilloux has been suspended from the football team over a misdemeanor charge of using another person's ID to get entry to a casino and is currently awaiting word on his LSU fate. Right now, the handwriting appears to be on the wall that Perrilloux will be allowed to remain on the team subject to some kind of suspension or other punishment.

This has some commenters upset. They think Miles either should banish Perrilloux permanently, or has to do so for some reason. The arguments seem to come in three flavors:
  1. Ryan Perrilloux is a cancer who will forever be more trouble than he is worth.
  2. Ryan Perrilloux must be expelled in order to express "accountability."
  3. Ryan Perrilloux must be expelled because Les Miles has set the precedent with Zhamal Thomas, Troy Giddens, and Kyle Anderson. Failure to follow this precedent will show that more important athletes get favorable treatment, which will hurt Miles' credibility.
I don't really have anything to say about Argument #1, except to say that I don't know what Perrilloux is like personally, and I doubt the people who are making this argument know either. It's the 2nd and 3rd arguments that I have a real problem with and need to dispel.

It is not necessary to expel Ryan Perrilloux in order to achieve "accountability". This term is greatly misused in society, and not just in regards to athletics. As an attorney, I represent a good number of criminal defendants, and it's an argument that I see everywhere, always abused and always misused.

"Accountability" for wrongdoings means a) acknowledging the wrongdoing, b) making right on damage done, and c) facing appropriate additional consequences. It does not mean "facing the most oppressive punishment our consciences can stomach". People routinely get these confused. People say, "We must give him 20 years in prison, or there will be no accountability," as if 15 years in prison would be utterly lacking in accountability for whatever crime has been committed.

The key word in my three-pronged definition of accountability is "appropriate". When this is bastardized in to "barely conscionable", you get the kind of absurd results that make people say, "Ryan Perrilloux must be kicked off the team permanently for trying to illegally access a casino, otherwise he is just walking all over us." Would, say, a 2 game suspension not punish Perrilloux in any way? Will his criminal punishments not affect him in any way? Mere slaps on the wrist! No, Mr. Perrilloux's life must be permanently impacted in ways that may affect his future livelihood. Otherwise, how will he learn? How will our children learn?

Absurd, I say.

Now for Argument #3, which says that Miles set a precedent in expelling Thomas, Giddens, and Anderson from the team, and now must follow it by doing the same with Perrilloux. Honestly, this argument is so devoid of good reasoning that it is a wonder anyone has to bother to refute it. As an initial matter, it assumes that all athletes should be treated similarly under similar circumstances, an assumption I question.

But more importantly, precedent only holds under similar circumstances, and Ryan Perrilloux's situation is not remotely similar to the Giddens/Thomas/Anderson situations. It's not even close.

In the cases of Thomas and Giddens, they committed a serious property crime whereby they broke into a house, committed theft, and used someone else's credit crime. These are felony crimes with concrete, identifiable victims. Anderson allegedly laid in wait for someone before attacking him and putting him in the hospital. A violent crime with a concrete, identifiable victim.

Ryan Perrilloux, by contrast, allegedly used his brother's ID to enter a casino illegally. While I don't question the legitimacy of this as a crime, it is a crime a lot like drug use or underage drinking in that the victim and the perpetrator are the same person. It is a law designed to protect the Ryan Perrilloux's from themselves. It has no concrete, identifiable victim. Everyone is a victim and no one is a victim.

This is so plainly obvious that I wonder why anyone even brings up the prior "precedent" as such. Perhaps it's just a symptom of the growing sentiment among some people that all crimes are roughly equal and all criminals deserve to be treated the same, as if there are no grades to wrongdoing whatsoever. Sorry, but a marijuana user is not as bad as a home invasion rapist, and Ryan Perrilloux's actions are not as bad as the actions of the other three. They need not, and should not, be treated as if they are similar.

Now, if the team gets together and decides that Perrilloux's misdeeds along with his past misdeeds mean that he should no longer be a part of the team, I am OK with that. It is not strictly necessary under any analysis of "accountability" and "precedent", however.

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