Last Friday, to surprisingly little fanfare, the Chicago Police Department announced they would not file sexual assault charges against Starlin Castro. The CPD had been investigating accusations brought against Castro by a woman he met late last September after the end of the regular season. The investigation took so long in part because Castro spent the offseason at his home in the Dominican Republic, so it wasn’t until he returned to Chicago for the Cubs Convention in January that he was able to sit down with investigators.
Cubs fans everywhere are relieved that the specter of criminal charges and jail time has finally been lifted off of Castro, and that he appears to be free and clear of the situation now. We’re also hopeful that he’s learned a valuable lesson at this early, pivotal point of his career and life.
The promiscuous, wanton lifestyle of the bigtime athlete is a well-worn cliche at this point, but one with increasingly shocking examples and often dire consequences. Mike Tyson and Michael Vick might be the obvious poster boys, but there’s no end to the number of ruined careers and shattered lives you can point to as warnings. Ricky Williams’ career was repeatedly derailed by his drug use. Josh Hamilton’s was put on hold, costing him several years of his athletic prime. And Todd Marinovich, Maurice Clarett, Len Bias, and several other young men’s careers never got off the ground because of their off-the-field indiscretions. The list goes on and on.
And it’s not just young, immature athletes who destroy their careers and lives through their illicit behavior. Former University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino is the latest walking illustration of Numbers 32:23, “and be sure, your sin will find you out.”
But we shouldn’t have to learn from only the worst tragedies and most grievous examples. Some players haven’t had their careers interrupted by their misdeeds. Yet. The Bears’ new wide receiver Brandon Marshall is almost more well known for his misbehavior off the field than his elite performance on it. He’s been involved in numerous bar fights–including one that led to the shooting death of teammate Darrent Williams–and was once stabbed by his wife (they’re still married). Castro’s own situation mirrored that of former Denver defensive back Perrish Cox–one of my favorite college players in his time with Oklahoma State. He went to trial for sexual assault, and faced up to ten years if convicted. A jury recently acquitted him, and he has since signed with the 49ers. Unless they get their lives together, guys like that are moral shipwrecks waiting to happen.
Other players will live with the consequences of their mistakes for years, and perhaps the rest of their lives. Magic Johnson’s Hall of Fame career was cut short by the results of his promiscuity. Brian Urlacher had a one-night stand and, eventually, a son with a woman who has routinely dragged him to court–her litigious history is well documented, including some allegations of sexual assault she made against the Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley–and generally made his life miserable ever since. I expect the results are exponentially worse for the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie, who has ten children with eight different women (and famously struggled to remember all their names on Hard Knocks).
Top to bottom, the sports world is full shady characters, sketchy behavior, and sleazy temptation. It’s nothing new–we just hear and see more about it today because of Facebook, TMZ, Deadspin, and half a dozen 24-hour sports channels. Life on the road has always and will always afford people low accountability and high potential for fulfilling their most prurient and nefarious desires. Let’s face it: for some–maybe many–that’s part of the appeal.
But not for everyone. There are plenty of guys who can live the life of a star athlete without succumbing to all the accompanying temptations. It’s not impossible to be famous and a model citizen. It just takes more effort. As a society of fans, we ought to do a better job of celebrating quality character and the players who exemplify it. But that’s not what sells newspapers and drives page views, so we’re likely to keep hearing more about athletes’ deviant behavior to the point where it becomes accepted as commonplace (if we’re not already there).
Like many of you, I’m hoping this episode has scared Starlin Castro straight–that he toes a finer line going forward, because he’s already been face-to-face with the consequences if he doesn’t. I hope he knows now what many others before him have had to learn the hard way: that there may not be a stat for good behavior, but it still counts.