Call it happenstance, call it morbid synchronicity, but I came across Jeff Benedict’s Out of Bounds – a book that bills itself as a “searing indictment” of the NBA and its alleged culture of misogyny and sexual misconduct run rampant – just as the Steubenville case was gaining national attention.
Benedict’s book was actually published back in 2003, so it’s not exactly timely in a journalistic sense, and the data compiled therein is subsequently taken from 2001-2002, so the figures have long-since been rendered obsolete. But the arguments and conclusions drawn from it simply cannot be ignored or otherwise dismissed by anyone who considers themselves a serious and responsible fan of the NBA and of professional sports in general.
According to his research, approximately 40% of NBA players had been charged with a serious crime between 2001-2002, and more specifically, there appeared to be an emerging trend toward sexual assault.
As expected, there was considerable backlash from those who criticized the book’s racial implications (91% of NBA players were black in 2001) as well as the author’s admittedly problematic research methodology, which appears in the preface and is summarized below:
1) Benedict and his research assistant decided, for unknown reasons, to undertake the truly Himalayan task of completing the research and writing of the book within a five-month period, which required them to collect, analyze and distill meaning from literally thousands of pages of legal documents.
2) Benedict inexplicably chose to omit “foreign” (why not international?) players from his study (the vast majority of whom are of European descent by almost any estimate).
3) Of the 475+ players in the NBA, Benedict was only able to obtain court or criminal records on approximately 177 of them (i.e. about 40%).
4) Of the 40% of the league researched for this book, 40% of the representative sample were found to have had what Benedict refers to as serious criminal charges (i.e. weapons, assault, drugs, etc.) brought against them. The keyword here is charges because many of the cases were subsequently dropped, acquitted, or settled out of court.
Benedict – himself a lawyer – has little reservation when speculating about cases that, for whatever reason, were never prosecuted. He claims that his experience as an attorney reinforces the widely-held perception that athletes who can afford good legal representation can generally circumvent the legal system for any number of improprieties.
The most troubling of these improprieties, and the whole crux of the book, is what Benedict argues is a tendency toward violence against women among NBA players. While it’s no secret that money, celebrity status, and continuous travel provide the ideal circumstances for athletes to enjoy unusually active sex lives, Benedict’s contention is that it also creates dangerous scenarios for the women involved.
But he comes off as a little provincial when he refers to athletes’ sexual escapades as a whole in disapproving terms such as “dark” and “sordid,” and it’s hard not to notice that little semantic slips like these might hint at an undercurrent of bias.
Nevertheless, one of the more poignant arguments of the book is that women who accuse professional athletes are in turn categorically discredited by publicists and defensive attorneys as lying, gold-digging, adulterous opportunists. He argues that female accusers are further subjected to threats, bullying, and intimidation on behalf of lawyers, agents, and other members of an athlete’s entourage, which creates an atmosphere that discourages most women from ever even pressing charges let alone proceeding with a criminal case or seeking restitution.
This is by far the most compelling argument of the book and one that would have merited further scholarly investigation, but Benedict unfortunately relies too heavily on anecdotal evidence to prove this point. In fact, despite what at first appears to be glaring statistical evidence (40%), the book as a whole is largely anecdotal, focusing narrowly on a handful of particularly appalling incidences.
It’s important to understand this from a rhetorical standpoint because it allows Benedict to lean heavily on the reader’s pathos to achieve his desired effect, which is to elicit unmitigated disgust at the type of behavior that is described – in great detail – throughout the book.
For several of the truly foul incidences documented within, such as the case of Ruben Patterson’s assault on his au pair, Benedict recreates the encounter in dramatic, narrative prose, sparing us none of the gory details, and my initial reaction was that there’s something perversely voyeuristic about it all, that perhaps the author has some underlying emotional investment in the subject matter that he needs to work through, but it also seemed to point to the fact that Benedict simply doesn’t have enough hard evidence to prove his original premise.
Instead, he opts for an overgeneralization based on a figure (40%) with an inestimable margin of error.
In the early 2000s, there was a dramatic shift in the public perception of the NBA. The Golden Age of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson was over, and there was a new, younger generation of players immersed in streetball and hip hop culture, and it was fashionable to bemoan the cornrows, the baggy clothes, and the lavish lifestyles that characterized the new era of basketball. But there was a media revolution going on as well, and the sports world was subject to a level of scrutiny it had never seen before, and Benedict’s suggestion that criminal behavior among NBA players was skyrocketing at the time (compared to years past) is never supported with actual data.
If Benedict is so passionate about this topic (which I believe that he is), why not take a few years and conduct more comprehensive research on all major professional sports, including more predominately white sports like baseball, golf, hockey, etc.? Surely, this sort of behavior isn’t unique to black athletes, as the findings seem to suggest?
The other major problem is that Benedict, while long on accusations, is short on solutions. He forgets that diagnosis isn’t the same as cure, so the question remains as to what should be done about this. For example, how can women better protect themselves? What types of scenarios should they avoid? What is the safest and most effective way for a woman to bring charges against an assailant? How can lawyers more effectively prosecute these types of cases on behalf of their clients and subsequently protect their clients against smear campaigns? Is there a need for new legislation regarding sex crimes? (This is where Benedict’s legal expertise might be of great use.) What types of penalties and/or suspensions should be imposed on behalf of the NBA and team owners pending the outcome of these allegations? What kinds of criminal and psychological background checks are conducted by the league or individual team owners, and how much do they factor in to the decision to draft or sign a certain player?
Out of Bounds is frustrating precisely because a closer inspection of this topic is so vital to the safety and well-being of women everywhere, and a rushed and haphazardly arranged book with racist undertones seems like somewhat of a disservice to this cause.