When professional athletes find themselves in legal trouble, the organizations that employ them have little power to take action against them. Two cases of late have highlighted this problem in professional sports: Nicolas Anelka’s controversial “quenelle” gesture that will likely suspend the player from his Premier League club West Bromwich Albion and New York Knicks’ point guard Raymond Felton, who was arrested this week for felonious gun charges after an altercation with his wife. Both players, however, have continued or will continue to play with their respective club.
“Under FA (Football Association) rules, Anelka remains available for first-team selection until the disciplinary process has reached its conclusion. Following this, the club will conclude its own internal enquiry,” says Anelka’s club, West Bromwich Albion. Which, whatever their feelings toward the 34-year-old striker may be, must continue to allow him to suit up for action.
And in the National Basketball Association’s collective bargaining agreement, a team is not permitted to discipline a player only for an arrest. The Knicks expect Felton in practice Wednesday and to suit up against the reigning NBA champions Miami Heat on Thursday.
Both of these players’ troubles could easily merit a team’s desire to distance themselves, as Anelka’s gesture is seen by many as an anti-Semitic gesture, and Felton was issued a six-month order of protection from his wife, whom he was turned into police by after an alleged altercation leading to his arrest. However, the rules will not allow it.
France’s Sport Minster Valerie Fourneyron said Anelka’s gesture was “shocking and disgusting” and added “there was no place for anti-Semitism on the football field.” And WBA’s sponsor, Zoopla, will no longer sponsor the club after the season because of the incident.
And for Felton, there are very few who feel he should be able to suit up just 48 hours after being arrested. But the Knicks have no power to keep him out of uniform. The NBA Players’ Association would be up in arms if the Knicks didn’t play the everyday starter.
There are very few professions that would allow a face of the company to continue to represent their organization, at least publicly, after making such poor decisions outside of the company. But sports are a different beast, and until these legal matters are finalized, the clubs are forced into backing their player no matter how they feel.
VISUAL CONTEXT: CRIME IN SPORTS