Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner, Olympic snowboarder Shaun White and Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar found themselves in various degrees of trouble Tuesday. Turner was arrested for DUI and speeding outside Atlanta, White is facing charges of vandalism and public drunkenness and Escobar was suspended for three games without pay after showing a gay slur on his eye-black during a game.
Whether well-known athletes are more or less apt to break the law or rules than the rest of us remains undetermined, said Mitch Abrams, a New Jersey sports psychologist specializing in athletes’ transgressions. "If Michael Turner wasn't a football player, that wouldn't even be a story. People get arrested for drunk driving all the time," Abrams said. An athlete like Turner is in need of "entourage training" where the people around him could help him make better decisions, Abrams said. "You make so much ... money -- you can't afford a car service."
Athletes often feel an "idea of invincibility" because of their on-field success.
"If you are physically better than other people and you win a lot, you are naturally going to have a lot of confidence. The path toward arrogance and narcissism is a natural consequence of chronic winning," said Abrams, who is also author of "Anger Management in Sport" and the Psychology Today "Sports Transgressions" blog. "Good coaching, supportive parents, discipline, sportsmanship. If you don't have those things in place and the athlete continues to dominate from youth ... of course they're going to think there's a different set of circumstances."
All three apologized for their transgressions either in person and on social media. Turner said Wednesday that he made “a bad decision” and was sorry for the embarrassment he caused the Falcons.
"I'm sorry for the actions of the other day," Escobar said via a translator Tuesday following his suspension. "I don't have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay. In reality I'd like to ask for the apologies of all those who have been offended by this." At least one photo showed Escobar displaying the remark in eye black during Saturday's game against Boston.
At least one photo showed Escobar displaying the remark in eye-black during Saturday's game against Boston.
Abrams called Escobar's message "premeditated" and "homophobic" hate. "To do that impulsively, and show such immaturity, narcissism ... there's no place for it," Abrams said. “It makes people question if sports builds character or just the wrong character."
The roughly $92,000 in salary forfeited by Escobar will go toward You Can Play -- an organization dedicated to ensuring equality for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation -- and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Escobar will also take part in an outreach program designed to help educate society about insensitivity and tolerance to others.
Very classy on the part of the Blue Jays and MLB to redirect the suspension money to help prevent future homophobic incidents.
— You Can Play Project (@YouCanPlayTeam) September 18, 2012
Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, no stranger to controversial remarks, told The Palm Beach Post that Escobar "didn’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings” and added, “in my house we say that word every 20 seconds. I got three kids. It’s how you say it.”
White took to Facebook to say he was "truly sorry for my poor behavior" after he was arrested for allegedly pulling a hotel fire alarm in Nashville, Tenn., early Sunday. The two-time Olympic gold medalist, X Games legend and multimillionaire businessman apologized "for the unwise choices I made over the weekend and for any inconvenience it caused my family, friends, business partners, the hotel and their guests. I was celebrating and got carried away."
White's Facebook post had more than 2,900 comments in its first 12 hours. "No worries. We all screw up & you've owned it, so move forward," wrote one follower. Many posts echoed similar sentiments.
"I think some people believe it's OK to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission," said Abrams, who works with prisoners as well as athletes. "If I punch you in the nose and say I'm sorry, society expects that you accept my apology. It would be nice if people had better forethought to make better decisions so they don't have to apologize."