Skip to content
Society, Politics & Law

Why sportspeople convicted of violence against women forfeit their right to be 'stars'

Updated Thursday, 10th March 2016

Should a sports star, convicted of crimes of violence against women, be allowed to return to the privileged position they occupied before they offended?

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

Sports star cartoon, society matters Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Artwork by Gary Edward © The Open University When Floyd Mayweather took on Manny Pacquiao last year in what was billed as the “fight of the century”, the pair of us made the conscious decision not to watch the bout, despite an interest in boxing both as spectators and participants.

Unlike some reporters, who claimed to be banned from watching it – ours was a defiant choice because we were more concerned with what it must have been like for the victims of Mayweather’s domestic violence. We were – and are – disappointed that a sportsperson so lacking in moral character is afforded celebrity and status. Whatever you may or may not think about the sport of boxing, violence outside the ring is never ok and yet too often the men (because it is overwhelmingly men who engage in domestic violence) are looked up to as role models.

Mayweather was sentenced to jail for three months after being found guilty for attacking his partner, Josie Harris. The boxer, who committed the offence in front of his two children – who heard him threaten to make her “disappear” – was allowed to return to the ring where his legions of fans lionise him for doing in the ring what he was imprisoned for doing in his home. This sends altogether the wrong message on domestic violence.

Or take the example of premier league footballer Danny Simpson, who served just 300 hours of community service for attempting to strangle his ex-girlfriend (the mother of his child). This hasn’t prevented him from turning out for his club, Leicester City, who are in poll position to win the league title and their players to make the leap to sporting superstardom.

This is a longstanding debate – and an important one. When Ched Evans wasn’t allowed to return to his club Sheffield United in 2014 – after serving two years of a five year sentence for rape, it allowed society to question whether people who have been convicted of crimes of violence against women should be allowed to continue to occupy the exalted status of “sports star”.


Photograph of Flody Mayweather stood topless in the middle facing the camera with his left arm up pointing to the right of his bod. There are five men stood around him. The first is on the left side of the page, wearing spectacles and a black suit. There is a man in a blue t-shirt looking over his shoulder directly at the camera. Behind Mayweather's right shoulder there is a man in a grey suit looking down toward the ground and behind Mayweather's left shoulder there is a man in a black cap and t-short looking toward the ground. Obscured by Mayweather's raised arm, there is a short man in a black suit on the right-hand side of the image.
Back in the limelight: Floyd Mayweather. Reuters/USA Today Sports

As Charlie Webster stated in her interview, after she resigned from Sheffield United as patron when the club allowed Evans to return to training after his release: “rape is not a trivial subject”. She argued that sexual asssault and violence against women should be taken more seriously than it is, particularly given the psychological and physical consequences of these crimes. Her argument was that whilst she believes in rehabilitation, she does not believe that it is right to put Evans back into exactly the same very privileged position where young boys and girls look up to him.

As it happens, Evans has not played professional football since being released on licence in October 2014 and is appealing his conviction. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in October 2015.

But the question remains: after a sports star is convicted of crimes of violence against women, is it appropriate that they should be allowed to return to the privileged position they occupied before they offended, where they are undoubtedly role models for young fans? While these sportspeople are undoubtedly skilled and talented, is it fair that this ability overshadows the trauma they caused to their victims whose welfare is all-too-often forgotten.

Role models

If sportspeople are often seen as role models a sportsperson cannot be judged only on their sporting success because young people who choose their role models judge them on their moral character as well. Sportspeople seem to be celebrities who hold power and are given, as David Marshall wrote in his book: Celebrity and Power: “a voice above others, a voice that is channelled into the media system as being legitimately significant".

What sort of messages do we give the younger generation if we allow people who have been convicted of abuse to continue to be sporting heroes and celebrated on a world stage where they continue to hold power and be glorified? Does this merely serve to trivialise the seriousness of domestic abuse and violence against women. When we see the Twitter jokes about Mayweather and DV during such events it’s clear that we still have a long way to go for the public to recognise the seriousness of domestic violence.

Journalist Lucy Hunter Johnston believes “a convicted rapist couldn’t be a teacher, doctor or police officer”. Shouldn’t “sports star” be among this list as well, given that “boys look up to footballers, not their Dads” and the link between major football tournaments and an increase in domestic abuse.

And if some sport stars are uniting to support the Violence Against Women campaign then doesn’t this seem to be a valuable argument to include “sports star” among this list to recognise that any violence against women is not tolerated in sport?

More than 26,000 people have signed a petition launched recently by Women’s Aid that calls for better protection of children in families with a history of domestic violence – showing that there is a widespread acceptance of the serious implications of domestic violence. But at the same time, while everyone seems to believe the general principle that violence against women is wrong, public perceptions suggest that they all too often let celebrities off the hook.

Should we give celebrities extenuating circumstances or is it too difficult to comprehend that after years of personal investment of following a celebrity or a sportsperson, we could be wrong about them? Let’s face it, regardless of how much public information we receive about celebrities or how well we think we know sportspeople we won’t know what goes on “behind closed doors”.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
Want to know more about studying social sciences with The Open University? Visit the Social Sciences faculty site.

Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?