​Bad sports: Violence by athletes off the field


Left: Aaron Hernandez is escorted into the courtroom of the Attleboro District Court for his hearing on August 22, 2013 in North Attleboro, Mass. The former New England Patriot was indicted on first-degree murder charges. Right: Oscar Pistorius is surrounded by police and media as he leaves North Gauteng High Court during his murder trial in Pretoria, March 7, 2014.

Jared Wickerham, Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Are some sports stars in fact BAD SPORTS? Or even criminals? A high-profile trial set to resume this Thursday in South Africa raises the question. Our Cover Story is reported now by Richard Schlesinger of "48 Hours":

They call him "The Blade Runner" -- Oscar Pistorius, the champion South African athlete who overcame the loss of his lower legs to perform at the highest level on high-tech prosthetic limbs.

But now he is also called "the defendant." Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in a fit of rage. He claims he shot her accidentally, fearing a home invasion. "Yeah, I believed that there was a threat that was on my life," he said.

His lawyers argue Pistorius was suffering from an anxiety disorder. But a court-ordered psychological evaluation found no evidence that Pistorius was mentally impaired.

Still, athletes and experts know that the kind of mass adulation a star athlete receives can change a person . . . for better or worse.

"You get treated differently," said Mike Golic, who has heard the roar of the crowd while playing defensive tackle for nine NFL seasons -- a position and a game that demand an element of rage.

"You get more things handed to you. And, you have a greater feeling of invincibility, that you can basically do anything you want and you're gonna get away with it."

"Did you have that feeling?" asked Schlesinger.

"Oh, absolutely!" he replied.

Golic and his sports journalist partner Mike Greenberg are co-hosts of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike."

"Sports is a microcosm of society," said Greenberg. "There are men out there who commit horrible acts when they put their hands on a woman. There are some of them who are professional athletes, and those wind up at the top of the newscast."

Such as Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who recently made news with video of his dragging his fiance after allegedly knocking her out. Rice was charged with aggravated assault, but the charges will be dropped if he completes counseling.

Rice's name is now added to a long list of pro athletes accused of abusing women, or worse.

Schlesinger asked, "How interested are people generally in athletes who get into criminal trouble?"

"Enormously so," said Greenberg. "Athletes have become far more than at any other time celebrities. Today, I think they are much more like movie stars and rock stars."

That's exactly the point, says Mitch Abrams, a sports psychologist and the author of "Anger Management in Sport." "I think that when we talk about professional athletes, we should be comparing them to celebrities, not to the average Joe.