Sideline Scholars

Six months from now, Kobe Bryant, Dany Heatley and Maurice Clarett, three of the greatest athletes in the world, could be in jail.

However, the likelihood is that Bryant will be celebrating his fourth championship, Heatley will be tearing up another NHL All-Star Game and Clarett will be cashing in his multi-million dollar NFL signing bonus.

This is the paradox that is professional sports. Athletes get away with murder... literally. For every Rae Carruth who sits in jail, there is a Ray Lewis, who is tearing it up on the football field.

Now, I'm not saying that Bryant is guilty of rape or that Clarett should not be allowed to enter the NFL Draft, but my point is that whether they are guilty or not, they will most likely not pay for it.

Because they have achieved status as celebrities and professional stars, they are seemingly exempt from the rules.

First, take O.J. Simpson. Even though his playing days were done, his celebrity status and deep pockets allowed him to hire the best lawyers money could buy and earn an acquittal, even though he was seemingly guilty.

Next, look at Ray Lewis. The Ravens' linebacker was involved in a nightclub shooting that resulted in two deaths. He went to trial and came through unscathed and continues to produce on the field.

And, currently, three of the brightest young stars in professional stars are in legal trouble.

Bryant is clearly the star of the group. He faces rape charges that could land him in jail for life.

But, his impending trial, which will take place in Eagle, Colorado, will almost surely end up with Bryant walking away and continuing his 30-point scoring ways.

If he is in fact innocent, then this is just. However if he did commit rape and walks, then he will just the latest in a long line of athletes who got away with a felony.

Another youngster in trouble with the law is Atlanta Thrashers forward Dany Heatley. He was driving his car at an illegally dangerous level and caused a car crash killing a teammate.

He now faces reckless driving charges and could face prison time. However, with his status as a rising star in the NHL, chances are he will be ruling the ice before the season is over.

And lastly is the incredibly entertaining saga of Maurice Clarett. He is about to embark upon a journey that may wind up with him in the NFL Draft next year.

He is suing Ohio State for invasion of privacy and trying to earn an exemption to be drafted. He still faces police charges, which could land him in jail. But, like Bryant and Heatley, Clarett will most likely never step foot in a courtroom, much less a jail cell.

Maybe I shouldn't sit here and criticize the system, but it's hard for me to believe that Simpson, Lewis, Bryant, Heatley, and Clarett are all innocent. Sometimes the system makes an example of a guy and we get Rae Carruth, who is serving a life sentence for killing his wife.

Obviously, no system is perfect, much less the criminal justice system. Every day, killers walk free and innocent men and women rot in jail. When it comes to athletes though, the continuum is more blatant.

The margin of error for a Kobe Bryant is much greater than it will ever be for an ordinary joe. Because of the fame, stardom and impact Bryant, Heatley, Clarett, and other athletes make to their sport and their nation, they have become exempt to many of the rules and restrictions that govern Americans' lives.

This is a sad tale, but one that gets told over and over again. In the coming months when Bryant's trial picks up, columns like this will be all over the country.

When an athlete errs on the field, he asks for forgiveness and reminds the world that he is only human. Well, maybe when he screws up in life, we should treat him for what he is: only human.

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