Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Favre, Wrangler, and athletes behaving badly

Michael links to Darren Rovel's column yesterday arguing why Brett Favre's Wrangler ads are still running in the face of the current investigation into his behavior towards a Jets employee when he played for New York two years ago. I am not a Favre fan (and I am really not a fan of fawning media). I really don't care whether Wrangler drops him or not, nor would I be surprised if it doesn't drop him, since athletes have to really misbehave before sponsors begin bailing.

I want to push on the following point, where Rovell says: "But you don’t have evidence of adultery and no crime was committed." This, Rovell argues, distinguishes Favre from Kobe Bryant (charged with a crime) and Tiger Woods ("adultery to the hilt," in Rovell's words).

First, by dismissing what Favre allegedly did as "no crime," he overlooks the seriousness of these actions. Assuming Jenn Sterger was unwilling, this is flat-out sexual harassment. Which, while not criminal, is unlawful conduct and a breach of serious federal civil rights rules. Rovell makes the same mistake that I argue David Stern made in the wake of the Isaiah Thomas sexual-harassment verdict--simply writing-off all non-criminal misconduct as not serious and not worthy of league (or sponsor) action. But some social rules are enforced through criminal law and some through civil law; the use of the latter does not necessarily make that rule less important or the breach of that rule less problematic. In fact, I would argue that a player sexually harassing a team employee is more of a problem, and reflects worse on Favre, than getting into a bar fight or being drunk in public (both of which are crimes).

Second, let's be clear about the allegations against Favre. He allegedly propositioned a woman, begged her multiple times to come to his hotel room, and sent her (presumably unwanted) photos of his genitals. And it sounds like the only reason he did not have sex with Sterger is because Sterger was unwilling. I have to say, while technically not adultery, I probably would not still be married if I did that. And I doubt my wife would accept "oh, but there's no evidence of adultery" as an excuse. Rovell draws a line between adultery (Woods) and this non-adultery. But completing the act of cheating on your spouse is not dramatically worse (from a moral or "family man" standpoint) than attempting to cheat on your spouse and failing only because your target was unwilling. Mind you, I don't actually view adultery as an offense against society that warrants league/team punishment or sponsor abandonment. But if you believe that sponsors were justified in dropping Woods, the argument that Favre "never actually had sex with someone other than his wife" does not work as a justification for treating Favre differently (again, assuming the allegations are true).