by Erin G.
On February 14, 2013, yet another news story surfaced of an international superstar being charged with a serious crime. Oscar Pistorius, a paralympian, who had become a symbol of overcoming adversity in his native South Africa and around the world, has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Steenkamp died after being shot four times through the bathroom door at Pistorius’s South African home.
On Tuesday, Pistorius denied that he willfully killed his girlfriend, claiming that he shot Steenkamp through the bathroom door with a 9-millimeter pistol because he believed that she was an intruder. In a statement read by his lawyer, Pistorius said, “I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated. I had no intention to kill my girlfriend.” Yesterday, the media has reported that the South African police found testosterone and needles at Pistorius’s home when they went to investigate the shooting last week. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/world/africa/oscar-pistorius-murder-charge-bail.html?_r=0.
Despite having both of his knees amputated as an infant after being born without fibulas, Pistorius became a global icon when he ran with able-bodied individuals in the 2012 London Olympics and was a champion at the 2012 Paralympic Games. Pistorius, who was given the name Blade Runner because he ran on carbon-fiber blades, has been featured in Nike advertisements. In one of the Nike advertisements he presciently stated, “I am the bullet in the chamber.”
The Pistorius story comes in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s recent admission to doping and can be added to a laundry list of criminal accusations against all-star athletes: Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault and rape, Kobe Bryant was accused of rape, Michael Vick was accused and convicted of bankrolling a dogfighting ring, O.J. Simpson was charged but acquitted of double murder, and Ray Lewis was charged with two counts of murder and felony murder.
As the case against Pistorius proceeds, it will likely be compared to the O.J. Simpson case, which led to harsh criticism about the ability of the legal system to hold athletes accountable under the law. Critics have repeatedly argued that our culture’s obsession with professional sports has disrupted the efficacy of the justice system. The Pistorius case will force us to address whether all individuals are truly equal before the law, or whether this principle requires a qualifying asterisk for athletes.