Ray Rice action an example of athlete condemnation era

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Even if your true allegiance is to college sports, you've probably heard of the high-profile allegations surrounding pro running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.

The former has been criticized for domestic abuse, the latter for child abuse. The backlash has been fierce, particularly from the Twitter mob set on seeing blood. And you know what? It's not undeserved.

The hero worship of athletes needed to crash down at some point.

But here's the kind of story that has gotten less coverage, yet seems as timely as ever. CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd recently wrote a piece about Vershon Moore, a running back at Division II Washburn University who was allowed to return to the football team after serving 30 months in jail for an aggravated bank robbery.

The principle question of the story: Would a school under the much brighter lights of Division I athletics be willing to take the same type of risk on giving an athlete another chance?

Would a college coach be willing to do so, knowing that it might be publicly ridiculed in a manner that could harm their persona and livelihood?

If not, perhaps we have seen the end of the proverbial second chance.

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Concerns ignored

There have been many situations where giving an athlete the opportunity to do right backfired in a very public and messy way.

Aaron Hernandez bumbled through a highly-successful, highly-controversial college career at the University of Florida, where he tallied 68 catches for 850 yards his senior year and also got into a bar fight as a freshman. 

His talent was well-known. His shady past, combined with known marijuana use and a penchant for hanging with the wrong crowd, was also understood.

One NFL team's pre-draft report on Hernandez was telling: "Self-esteem is quite low; not well-adjusted emotionally, not happy, moods unpredictable, not stable, doesn't take much to set him off, but not an especially jumpy guy."

The New England Patriots made him a second round pick in the 2010 NFL draft. After three years in the league, he was arrested and later convicted for the shooting and murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player and a friend.

When it pays off

That's obviously an extreme case of what can go wrong when overlooking a player's red flags. There's also the flip side of the coin though: the athlete who makes good on his second chance.

That's what happened when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted for operating an illegal dog fighting ring, served 21 months in prison and returned to become an excellent player, as well as an advocate against animal cruelty off the field.

Now as we see the cases unfold around Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, it's hard not to think that we've entered a hyper-aware, perhaps hyper-sensitive, time in athletics.

This applies to college sports as well. Watch the way the Jameis Winston situation unfolded at Florida State: after it was clear that the public didn't see a one-half suspension as enough, the school benched him for the entire Clemson game.

Other athletes will be treated similarly, by a public that is far less forgiving than years before.

We should continue to be vigilant, especially in making our professional leagues know what is and it isn't acceptable behavior. 

But perhaps by understanding that athletes, like others, make mistakes, we can learn when it's appropriate to pave the road to redemption, rather than tear it down.

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