Dante Cunningham Arrested, Again: Should He Play?

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In the early morning hours of Thursday, April 3rd, Dante Cunningham was arrested for (and charged with) felony domestic assault following an incident in which he allegedly choked his live-in girlfriend during an argument. Part of the terms of his bail was a “no-contact” order, forbidding telephone or internet communication between the two. Sunday morning, the woman contacted authorities, claiming Cunningham had violated the “no-contact” order; upon further investigation, the Timberwolves forward was arrested for the second time in four days, this time for “making terroristic threats.”

Before progressing any further: it’s important to note that the word “terroristic” has certain connotations that may not necessarily apply, at least, not in the manner you may think. It essentially means that a serious threat was conveyed; the language was changed and strengthened post-9/11, for obvious reasons. (This is a concise rundown of the legal details.) As of Monday evening, no charges had yet been filed following the second arrest.

Obviously, both incidents are troubling. Cunningham is accused of exhibiting pretty despicable behavior. After spending around 36 hours in custody, he was released on Friday night, having posted $40,000 bail, and caught a plane to Orlando in time for the Wolves’ tilt against the Magic on Saturday. Many in the Twin Cities media, as well as fans on social media, wondered why he was allowed to play in the midst of his ongoing legal issues. Some felt that putting Cunningham on the floor sent the wrong message, that if there was a time to send a zero-tolerance message by sitting or releasing a player, this was it.

Responding to the Cunningham dilemma with such a black-and-white resolution ignores the complexities of the situation. Obviously, domestic assault and physical threats are not morally complex issues; if Cunningham did what he’s accused of doing, he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But we’re all innocent until proven guilty – the legal process must be allowed to run its course. It’d be imprudent to rush to judgment prior to its conclusion.

As far the team’s handling of the situation, their hands are more or less tied. The Collective Bargaining Agreement does not allow clubs to suspend players while legal issues are ongoing. Employees at will – that is, non-union employees – could be fired in this situation. NBA players are union members, and their right to continue to work through pending legal trouble was a right they negotiated for.

Theoretically, it would have been possible for the Wolves to send a message to Cunningham by benching him following the arrest, even after he was able to report to work. It’s not an official suspension, but his detainment caused him to miss an official team flight (to Miami) as well as a game; players have been benched for far less. If the team were fully healthy, they may have done just that. However, Minnesota began the Orlando game with 10 healthy players, and 1:00 into the game, that number was down to 9 (after Chase Budinger injured his ankle). Cunningham was able-bodied, present, and happens to play a position where the team is woefully thin (front court). It’s hard to fault Rick Adelman for putting him in the game.

If convicted, Cunningham faces several years of probation and stiff fines, at the least, and multiple years in prison if his actions are deemed severe enough to warrant it. The CBA does allow teams to suspend players for a minimum of 10 games if they’re tried and convicted of a violent felony; but since Dante’s deal with the Wolves is almost up, it’s likely that will be another team’s problem.

But between now and the season, a difficult question lingers: should the Timberwolves put Dante Cunningham on the floor?

It’s a terrible situation all around, especially for his alleged victim, as well as his daughters, who are staples at Target Center, as well as stars of Cunningham’s Instagram feed. We should be more jaded; social media can be manipulated to make anyone look like something they’re not. But part of the reason the Cunningham news hurt those of us who follow the Wolves was that he seemed like one of the good ones – raised in a military family, a tireless worker on the basketball court, a family man. Something, somewhere, went horribly awry.

Maybe this is all a terrible misunderstanding. Maybe Cunningham’s a violent monster. We’ll find out the truth – at least, the court’s definition of the truth – in due time. Until then, he should be allowed to play. It’s his right under the CBA, his right as a man who’s innocent until proven guilty.

We don’t have to feel comfortable with it – we probably shouldn’t. It’s probably better that way. We live in the ambiguous gray area between alleged criminal action and civil punishment – and in the meantime, a man, presumed innocent until proven guilty, will get to go to work.

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5 thoughts on “Dante Cunningham Arrested, Again: Should He Play?

  1. I’m glad I didn’t listen to local sports talk radio yesterday like you did, William. That couldn’t have been pleasant.

    As you mention, this is too complicated a situation to say “sit him” or “cut him.” Because he plays in every game when healthy, I assume the NBPA could file a grievance if he started getting DNP-CDs, and they’d definitely file one if he was waived. Not only that, but angering an agent (whoever it is) probably is counterproductive as well. That obviously doesn’t excuse what he (allegedly) did; he deserves punishment if he’s guilty. That punishment just can’t come from the Wolves at this point. That may make them seem weak, but that weakness was traded for other owner perks during labor agreement negotiations; if they want more agency to do something, they have to bargain for it.

  2. I never fully understood the court process until I served on a jury. I learned a lot in the whole process. The case I was a part of was a domestic assault as well and with the limited information I know of Dante’s issue, it sounds similar. The short version of the case I was part of is, a guy got drunk and harrassed his wife and eventually took it too far for her taste that day. Between the evidence of the recordings/video/pictures, imo (and about half of the jury), the accusations were way overblown regarding the evidence and testimony. There were, of course, people who were out for blood and seem to think court was a crappy Lifetime movie or whatever and wanted to throw the book at the guy. With that said, in the end we had to charge him on all 5 counts solely due to the way the verbiage was written for each count in each situation. The moral to my little story is, it really can go either way in court and a man shouldn’t be prosecuted prematurely until that process has completed. I say let him play (especially since his union has placement for a situation specifically for this type of situation)

  3. I agree that we can’t know exactly what went on. However, the whole first part aside, sending those texts after was beyond stupid, in the wrong or not just cut off contact until it is all resolved.

  4. If he didn’t have those specific union-negotiated rights I would cut him, but they are what they are. I would just spot play him and let the season run out. In any event I don’t think bringing him back is a consideration, he isn’t exactly Kobe Bryant and they don’t need uncertainty and controversy surrounding a role player.

  5. I think it’s funny how one day sport figures are the greatest person only to be shunned the next day for a greivance that only 2 people know exactly what happened. This is clearly something that needs to be hashed out in court and not deliberated through the media. For all we know Dante could have been restraining his girlfriend to keep her from hitting him and she precieved that as chocking. We have no idea beyond speculation and we are not going to get much more anytime soon. I hope that things turn in a better direction than what they sound like now. And if they are true, than I hope Dante gets a punishment and the help he needs to never act in this manner again. And lastly I hope the media can for once remember these are real people going through tough times and let them deal with these issues in a private manner. Just as all of us would prefer if it was us in a simialr situation.

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