Can sports save Marcus Dixon?
By Bomani Jones
Special to Page 2

Marcus Dixon and his story have been burning up Internet connections and airwaves for the last few weeks. As an 18-year old high school senior and a top football recruit, he had sex with a girl three months shy of her 16th birthday. The girl claimed she was raped. The jury determined the sex was consensual.

Sixteen is the age of consent in Georgia. But Georgia is a place where interracial ... well, anything, still isn't a pretty sight to many; and in this case, "many" included the girl's father. Rape charges were filed against Dixon.

On a six-count indictment, Dixon was exonerated of all charges involving force. He was convicted of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and an outlandish charge of "aggravated child molestation." The latter charge applies to any sexual act performed with a minor two years one's junior that causes injury. By mutual admission, the girl was a virgin and was "injured" in the act.

Allen Iverson
Without sports, where would Allen Iverson be?
Mandatory sentence: 15 years.

So is Marcus Dixon today's Allen Iverson?

Some would say, "No."

Actually, make that, "Hell, no."

And that might appear to be the case at first glance. Iverson is a sorta-6-footer who makes his living with an ill crossover dribble and a naturally-choreographed nonconformist image. At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Dixon could carry AI in the coin pocket of his jeans. He was one of the best high school defensive ends in the Southeast; and with a 3.96 GPA, signed a letter of intent to play college football at Vanderbilt.

Iverson is a product of Newport News, Va., a town often referred to as "Bad News." (One glimpse of its special brand of urban blight will tell you why.) Dixon, on the other hand, was raised in Rome, Ga., a small town several miles beyond the metropolitan fringe where Atlanta (the so-called "black Mecca") becomes North Georgia.

North Georgia isn't a Mecca of anything, let alone blackness.

Iverson and Dixon are not quite peas in a pod. Maybe apples and oranges.

It has been 11 years since Iverson served four months of a five-year sentence for his disputed-and-unproven role in a bowling alley brawl.

Dixon is one year into a 15-year sentence, also of dubious origins.

Identical percentage of time served. Similar racist undertones. And at the end of the day, both Dixon and Iverson would be understood if they showed appreciation to their saving grace.

Thank God, thank goodness, thank anybody for sports.

On Wednesday, Georgia's Supreme Court heard arguments on Dixon's case, and it's likely that he will be released on time served. No one in the state has ever been sentenced to that much time for consensual sex with someone of a similar age, and Dixon has already served the maximum for the statutory rape conviction.

And in what is either kismet or really good luck, his case will be heard by a body whose Chief Justice, Norman S. Fletcher, has said, "While setting minimum and maximum limits of punishment for crimes is a legislative function, your judges need the flexibility to see that the sentences imposed are fair and just considering the totality of the circumstances of each case." It was in his State of the Court address on Jan. 16.

Score a big one for the defense.

A decision on Dixon's appeal might take months; but it seems likely the sentence for molestation will be altered, if not thrown out.

If Iverson's past is any indication, Dixon will still get to play college football. Vanderbilt has been mum regarding his future. But his grades and SAT scores, prominently featured but wholly irrelevant in the disposition of his case, are high enough that his mother will not have to ask any coach to "save her son," as Ann Iverson asked of John Thompson at Georgetown.

Life doesn't rewind and surely can't be TiVo'd, but Dixon's lost year ultimately might seem more like someone pressed "pause" on his life than "stop."

Happy ending?

Not quite.

This chapter ends, at least, for Dixon. But would that be the case if the subsequent pages didn't include the possibility of bowl games and football heroism? Without sports, how much would people care?

If Iverson had not been Virginia's Player of the Year in football and basketball, would his case have made the radar? Three other boys were convicted with Iverson in 1993. Who outside of Virginia knows their names? Who knows what happened to them?

Without sports, would Bryant Gumbel (who featured the case on HBO's "Real Sports") have looked Marcus Dixon's way? Would Dixon's attorneys -- corporate litigators working pro bono -- have delved deeply enough into his story to find the injustice were he not a football player?

Jason Taylor
Jason Taylor's wife is white, and he's received harassing letters because of it.
Happy ending? The real drama seems never-ending.

In Dixon's case, the real drama is that black men sleeping with white women is still taboo. Nearly 50 years after Emmitt Till paid the ultimate price for a wolf whistle, NFL players large and small -- from Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor to fair-to-middling slot receiver Freddie Mitchell -- still receive hate mail for interacting with white women. When the Eagle County, Colo., sheriff's department allegedly commemorates Kobe Bryant's case with T-shirts featuring a Hangman game, it's impossible to ignore what bubbles under the surface of his legal troubles.

And O.J. ... for a number of reasons, let's not get into O.J. But even there, an informal, but almost axiomatic, rule was clear once again.

It's still against the rules for black men to sleep with white women.

And should someone be bothered enough, it can be against the law.

But, in a way, we should all thank God, goodness, anybody, for sports.

Sports -- or, more accurately, America's obsession with them -- can bring attention to details of life that many do not otherwise consider. Len Bias' death brought the dangers of cocaine front and center. And I've got money that says condom sales skyrocketed after Magic Johnson announced he had contracted HIV.

As fans, we're shaken when our heroes are afflicted. We're often compelled to help their causes and are usually unable to ignore a problem once it's thrust into the realm in which we divert our precious and undivided attention.

And now, the Marcus Dixon case has made clear the Catch-22 of the law.

To be effective, the law must be adaptable. Gray areas will always exist so the law can expand and contract to fit different times and situations. That elasticity, for example, is what allowed the government to put Al Capone away after it could not prove his money was dirty.

Who could argue against that?

But it's another thing when the law's elasticity is contorted to fit an irrationality or agenda.

Another deplorable thing.

Tyrone Brooks, the state representative who wrote Georgia's child molestation statute, has said Dixon's case does not reflect the spirit in which the law was intended. That needn't be said, though. No one ever believed it was.

Marcus Dixon supporters
Marcus Dixon supporters, including the husband and son of his legal guardian Peri Jones, participated in a candlelight vigil Tuesday night.
But as a good friend of mine likes to say, technicalities are a mutha'.

So thank something for sports. Thank something for catching our collective attention, for making it more likely that something this egregious will not happen again. Thank something this diversion is so frequently found at the pulse of real life.

After all, this diversion might save Marcus Dixon's life.

It definitely saved Allen Iverson's.

More importantly, who knows how many guys in the same position as Dixon could have faced the same fate? His year in jail might have saved many others from many more.

Without sports, where would he wind up? A safe bet on that? The slammer.

Iverson? Probably the protagonist in an epic of what might have been.

And while we're on it, what about the rest of us?

Bomani Jones is a contributor to a number of online publications. Questions, comments, praise and hate mail may be directed to ahtuhmihed@yahoo.com.





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