Chris Cook and the Presumption of Innocence

I would like to start this post off with a very important caveat (so important in fact, I will put it in bold!): In no way do I support or approve of domestic violence. It is a heinous crime, often committed against defenseless people, and should be accompanied by onerous sentences and penalties.

In the case of Chris Cook, however, no one, except perhaps for a fly on the wall, can positively affirm that he is guilty of strangulation and domestic violence. The charges may be more serious than those directed at Saints DE Will Smith in November 2010, for allegedly dragging his wife through the street by her hair, or Seahawks LB Leroy Hill in April 2010, whose girlfriend, police reported, “had obvious marks and injuries”,  since the latter were classified as misdemeanors. It should be noted, however, that neither of those players were suspended by their teams for the aforementioned charges. In 2005, strangulation was elevated to a felony in Minnesota, in response to its apparent relationship with domestic homicide (for more see WATCH’s report on the law). This, along with the gruesome details of the accusation have made the situation unacceptable to the large swath of public who is paying attention, and to the Minnesota Vikings, who have suspended Cook for what seems to be an indefinite period.

I respect that the Minnesota Vikings, like any organization, has the right to choose whom it is represented by. I accept that such agreements are voluntary.  Obviously, contracts cannot be broken willy-nilly, but they should not be immune from circumstances that irrevocably alter the conditions behind the agreement. That being said, I do not believe the suspension of Chris Cook to be the right decision. No plea has been entered, and the implication of his post-jail tweet (“…two sides to every story!!”) is that he intends on fighting this thing. I understand that part of the Leslie Frazier project is to build a team with strong character,  leaders like Jared Allen, and warriors like Percy. As far as I know, and to be fair there may be a lot left to be desired there, Cook has been a good teammate.  Sure there was the gun charge in the offseason, but that is not really material when it comes to being a hard working guy who buys into the team concept. Cook looked like a bit of a bust initially, yet thus far he had shown up and looked to be making major strides.  Most importantly, however, is the fact that he is innocent.

Does our society not abhor rumor mongers? Do we not believe in the validity of our justice system? The fact is, if Chris Cook is tarred as a guilty individual, ostracized because of a police report, we have failed as a society. At least allow Cook to enter a plea, allow the courts to do their jobs. It reminds me of the suspension that awaited Michael Vick in his first season with the Eagles. The man had already paid his debts to society, and I am saying this as the adoring owner of an American Pitt Bull Terrier. I understand the NFL’s obsession with image, and in the long run it is likely a very beneficial stance. Yet, I also believe the league and its constituents have set a dangerous precedent when it comes to sentencing men who have not yet been convicted.  My hope is that justice is served. So far, I am not sure that this is the case.

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