Athletes Who Flout The Law: Sure lots do, but should they be able to get away with it in front of millions of people?

Although there may have once been a more innocent age when professional athletes were, by and large, deserved to be society's role models, in today's world many of them act more like spoiled little millionaires than anything worthy of emulation on the part of America's youth.

My specific gripe

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls are probably more idolized by kids and teenagers (and plenty of adults too) all around the world than any other basketball player or team. The whole world, with the exception of Larry Bird, seems to "wanna be like Mike." And hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world saw Mr. Jordan win his sixth NBA championship, defeating the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

What was the first thing Mr. Jordan and Company did after they'd won? If you guessed that they went to Disneyland, you'd be wrong. Instead, they had themselves a press conference where they could gloat to the media and revel in their triumph. Oh, yes, and show the world that true winners smoke cigars to celebrate their victories in life. Never mind a pesky little detail known as the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act, which prohibits smoking inside of non-residential buildings. Last time I looked there was not a statutory exemption for jocks.

What happened to Michael Jordan, basketball-God and now criminal?

Nothing.

Oh sure, those do-gooders over at the American Medical Association raised a bit of a ruckus, but was the law enforced? Not that anyone was able to tell, and surely it would have made the news. Maybe Michael Jordan is too indingent to pay a small fine? No. You'd think that if any of us can ever pay a few dollars for a parking ticket that a guy who makes over $30 million a year ought to be able to spare some change. Maybe there weren't any witnesses? No. It was the highest rated NBA game ever. Millions saw it. Maybe the managers of the Delta Center were too depressed after the Jazz lost and they all left the building and were thus unable to exercise their statutory responsibility to make Mr. Jordan either stop smoking or leave. Possibly. Maybe there were no law enforcement personnel present at the Delta Center. Yeah, right. That's got to be it.

Why I decided to write to the Attorney General

When I was a kid in school, I often thought the Pledge of Allegiance should finish "and liberty and justice for some" rather than "for all." Clearly OJ Simpson, another professional jock, showed the world that if you can hire enough good lawyers, and the if district attorney is dumb enough, you can literally get away with murder in America.

Jan Graham, Attorney General, is one of Utah's only elected state officials who is a Democrat. (Proudly, Utah's entire conressional delegation is Republican.) She's one of the few state attorneys general who has filed suit against both the tobacco industry and Bill Gates' Microsoft.

So what should we be able to infer from a Democrat who sues both big tobacco and Bill Gates?

The letter . . .

I figure if Michael Jordan's criminal activities don't merit enforcement of the law, then the state ought to repeal it and not even bother having it on the books. So, with that in mind, here is the letter I sent via certified mail to Ms. Graham and via email to Rolly & Wells at the Salt Lake Tribune:

Michael A. Cleverly
PO Box 26
Bountiful, Utah 84011-0026

June 17, 1998

Honorable Jan Graham
Utah State Attorney General
236 State Capitol
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114

Dear Ms. Graham,

I am interested in obtaining information from your office regarding the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act. Specifically I'm interested in learning what penalties, fines, or other sanctions an individual may incur for violating the act. What duty does a business owner (or building owner of a place of public accommodation) have to ensure compliance with the act? Who has jurisdiction to enforce the act? Historically how often is the act enforced? Are socio-economic factors, including fame and social status, taken into account in deciding whether or not to enforce the act?

As has been widely reported in the national media, Michael Jordan and other Chicago Bulls players lit up cigars (on national TV) inside the Delta Center after winning the NBA championship. Presumably the Delta Center is a place of public accommodation where the Indoor Clean Air Act would apply. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Monday June 15, 1998 that the "Salt Lake City police got around 30 calls, including one from Oregon, saying that he should be arrested."

The Deseret News on Tuesday June 16, 1998, reported that American Medical Association convention delegates, appalled by Mr. Jordan and teammates, voted "to urge sports teams and the television industry to keep tobacco products off the air during and after sporting events." Responding to criticism, the "doctors said the issue is too important to ignore, even at the risk of seeming to meddle or attack popular figures."

Had any attempt been made to prevent Mr. Jordan from smoking his cigar inside the Delta Center it would have undoubtedly made national news, as would any effort to enforce Utah's Indoor Clear Air Act after the fact. Given that nothing of the kind has been reported in the media, a reasonable person would conclude that Mr. Jordan and his fellow Bulls were able to flout Utah law with little or no repercussion.

Assuming a fine can be levied against an individual for egregiously violating the Indoor Clean Air Act, does the Attorney General's office intend to make sure that Mr. Jordan is held responsible for his conduct? Obviously Mr. Jordan is in a position to pay the maximum fine permitted by law. If an individual is not liable, then surely the building's owner would be.

Surely the State of Utah does not discriminate based upon a person's wealth or social status. Attorney General Graham's involvement in the states' attorney's general suit against Microsoft would seem to indicate that this is the case. However, the lack of any censure or sanction against Mr. Jordan and his teammates begs the question: Are sports celebrities different than ordinary Utahns in the eyes of the law? If a violation of the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act -- witnessed live in person by thousands of Utah Jazz fans in the Delta Center and on television by hundreds of thousands of Utahns (as well as by hundreds of millions of viewers both in the United States and around the world) -- goes unpunished, how can any Utahn respect (or expect, for that matter), any enforcement of the Indoor Clean Air Act? I agree fully with the doctors of the American Medical Association that this is a case "too important to ignore."

I would appreciate receiving more information on this Act and any plans your department has regarding its possible enforcement in this or any other instance.

Sincerely,


Michael A. Cleverly

The lame response I finally got:

I'm not sure what I really expected to have happen, but after a couple of weeks I finally got a form letter response signed by a secretary in the AG's Office. (The attorney's signature is "on file." Apparently my letter didn't merit a response from anyone making more than $10/hour.) They did send me some nice brochures. The whole letter was comprised of two two sentences, which said essentially:

Here is information you requested on the Indoor Clean Air Act. The Health Department is responsible for enforecement; their phone number is...

Why I didn't pursue things with the health department

I'm really not that much of a basketball fan, so it wasn't like I had a personal vendetta out for the Chicago Bulls. The Health Department would probably give me a yawn just like the Attorney General's Office. Hopefully Michael Jordan will just retire and go away and give himself lung cancer in private. Plus, should he really retire this time around, Utah Jazz fans and freedom loving basketball fans across the country can take consolation in the fact that Jordan went out a loser in Chicago at his last home game!

Rolly & Wells — no response

I never even so much as got an acknowledgement of my email from them. Such is life.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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