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Column: The fallacy of second chances in sports, and what it would mean if the Suns traded for Miles Bridges

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
January 27, 2024
The Phoenix Suns are reportedly interested in trading for Miles Bridges, according to the latest NBA trade rumors

There are moments scattered throughout an NBA season that serve as a reminder that life is bigger than basketball. Some are happier, life-affirming events that provide perspective; others are harsh, stark contrasts that do the same. The Phoenix Suns’ interest in Miles Bridges is the latest example of the latter.

As reported by the PHNX Suns Podcast and then again in Monday’s 30 trade scenarios for PHNX Sports, the Suns have discussed a Bridges trade with the Charlotte Hornets. As further detailed on Friday, they are confident in their ability to get that deal across the finish line. Bridges holds veto powers in any potential trade, and although he told The Charlotte Observer he wants to remain in Charlotte, it feels unlikely the Hornets will re-sign him as a free agent this summer.

Strictly from a basketball standpoint, the Suns’ interest in a 20-points-per-game scorer like Miles Bridges tracks. His trade value is an all-time low, he fits a position of need on the wing, and if the Hornets aren’t planning to re-sign him to a lucrative, multi-year deal, it’d make sense for them to trade him rather than lose him for nothing.

Again, though, there are moments in life that remind us that life is bigger than basketball, championships or tribalism in sports. And in the event this trade comes to fruition, it’s worth examining why this is one of those moments.

Miles Bridges domestic violence case timeline

For those who are unfamiliar, a recap is in order. In June of 2022, Miles Bridges was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend at the time in front of their two children, and he was released on a $130,000 bond.

Mychelle Johnson, the mother of Bridges’ children, addressed the incident soon after with a since-deleted Instagram post that included pictures of her injuries (trigger warning for the photos: domestic violence). The post also included a medical report that read: “adult victim of physical abuse by male partner; Assault by strangulation, Brain concussion; Closed fracture of nasal bone; Contusion of rib; Multiple bruises; Strain of neck muscle.”

“I hate that it has come to this but I can’t be silent anymore,” she wrote in the caption. “I’ve allowed someone to destroy my home, abuse me in every way possible and traumatize our kids for life. I have nothing to prove to the world, but I won’t allow anyone who could do something so horrible to have no remorse and paint a picture of something I’m not. I won’t allow the people around him to continue to silence me and continue to lie to protect this person.”

In July of 2022, Bridges faced three felony domestic violence charges — one felony count of injuring a child’s parent and two felony counts of child abuse under circumstances or conditions likely to cause great bodily injury or death.

Bridges eventually pled no contest to the charge of injuring a child’s parent in November of 2022. A no-contest plea means accepting punishment and conviction without formally admitting guilt. He was sentenced to three years of probation, but saw no jail time and had the other two charges dropped as part of a deal with the prosecution.

As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes detailed, over that three-year probation period, Bridges is required to complete 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling, 52 weeks of parenting classes and serve 100 hours of community service. He cannot own any guns or ammunition, had to pay $800 in fines and must obey a 10-year protective order, which requires him to stay 100 yards away from Johnson and have no contact with her. The two maintained custody over their children, with any visitation or exchange of the children done through a third party.

In April of 2023, the NBA suspended Bridges for 30 games, already counting 20 games toward that total because he missed the entire 2022-23 season. He served the remaining 10 games at the start of the 2023-24 season, after signing a $7.9 million qualifying offer to return to the Hornets.

The fallacy of second chances

Sports — and the entertainment industry at large — are big on second chances. Or, someone famous laying low long enough for people to forget the reprehensible things they’ve been accused of. For many, a player, actor or musician’s work overshadows everything else.

So naturally, once Bridges was basically suspended for 10 games for allegedly beating his ex-girlfriend, and once he apologized at his re-introductory press conference last July, that was good enough for an alarmingly large portion of NBA fans.

“I want to apologize to everybody for the pain and embarrassment that I caused to everyone, but especially my family,” Bridges began. “This year away, I’ve used it to prioritize going to therapy and becoming the best person I could be — someone that my family and everyone here could be proud of.

“I want to thank the Hornets organization and the NBA for giving me a second chance. A lot of people don’t get a second chance, and I want to use that second chance just to prove to everybody that I’m the same kid that you drafted five years ago.”

Aside from the obvious horror of Bridges’ actions, that “second chances” part is extra cringeworthy — not because people are undeserving of second chances, but because in this case, the argument is rooted in some misplaced belief (or sheer ignorance) that a player’s performance on the court can properly atone for violent, unhinged behavior off it.

You don’t have to be religious to believe in redemption, but second chances are earned, not given. Nothing that Bridges achieves on the court this season — whether it’s winning a title in Phoenix or wasting away on a lottery team in Charlotte — will supersede the horrific things he’s accused of doing, nor will it be enough to atone.

The sad truth is, no one will ever truly know what’s in Bridges heart, and whether all that time in therapy, parenting classes and community service was sincere. But judging by his recent actions, we can hazard a guess: Nothing we’ve seen or heard is indicative of someone who’s actively striving to be a better man. If anything, it reaffirms the suspicions that he was just half-heartedly accepting the court- and league-mandated punishments that stood in the way of resuming his career.

On October 11, 2023, a criminal summons was issued for Bridges over an alleged violation of the protective order, and he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse and injury to personal property. According to court records, Bridges allegedly threatened Johnson on Oct. 6 by throwing pool balls at her car, while his children were in the car.

Bridges also allegedly threatened that if she told the police, he’d withhold child support money. Two days after the criminal summons, Bridges turned himself in, only it was for a separate arrest warrant issued for violating the protective order back in January of 2023, and now his next court date is set for Feb. 20, 2024.

Does that sound like someone who’s contrite and ready to change? Does that behavior depict a man who deserves a second — or rather, third chance?

One of the most popular arguments defending Bridges is that Mychelle Johnson has defended him multiple times on Twitter. Ignoring, for a second, the fact this is a bad-faith argument meant to assuage basketball fans’ guilt over rooting for Bridges, many victims of domestic violence defend their abusers, for a variety of complex reasons.

In any case, one day after the alleged October incident, Johnson tweeted a different kind of message:

In other words, “second chances” aren’t guaranteed, and our lack of clairvoyance into the depths of a man’s heart and soul doesn’t let him off the hook. We are judged by our actions, and Bridges’ certainly don’t deserve acceptance from a fanbase already recoiling at the thought of adding him.

The idea that Bridges was already punished by missing out on a multimillion-dollar payday in 2022 is laughable. Similarly, anyone pushing the narrative that he “made a mistake” or has “overcome adversity” may need a refresher that domestic violence is not a “mistake” or “adversity” for him to overcome.

Forgiveness is between Miles Bridges and Mychelle Johnson and his children, and redemption is between Bridges and whatever god he believes in. But that doesn’t mean Suns fans should be expected to forgive and forget if he starts wearing purple and orange.

The logical fallacy of “second chances” seems to dictate that Bridges is automatically entitled to resuming his career. That, because he said he’s sorry, took a year off, and went through a few required punishments, he’s earned the right to continue making millions of dollars. But as a professional basketball player in the public sphere, his “second chance” shouldn’t be shoved in the faces of Hornets fans, Suns fans or any basketball fans. The idea that Suns fans should simply accept his potential arrival because he can dunk is devoid of logic, empathy and moral backbone.

For an alarmingly large portion of the fanbase, none of Bridges’ actions off the court will matter if the Suns trade for him and win a title. There will be plenty who actively root for him to succeed, simply because he’s a decent player, and there will be plenty more who choose to separate the art from the artist — a coping mechanism that’s almost required to be a fan of anything in the entertainment sector these days.

But if these trade rumors materialize and Miles Bridges comes to Phoenix, there will be a significant portion of the fanbase that will feel disgusted, uncomfortable and disillusioned. And they have every right to feel that way.

Miles Bridges and the Suns’ critical decision

Most people who prefer to “stick to sports” do so because life is hard, and ugly, and depressing. Sports offer them an escape, an outlet to just sit back and enjoy a game. It’s a lot easier to pledge blind allegiance to your favorite team and ignore the character of the people wearing their colors than to acknowledge the pain of someone you’re unlikely to ever meet in person.

But for a large portion of female fan demographic, for those who have encountered domestic violence in their own lives, or for anyone with an ounce of empathy in their bones, the Suns will no longer provide that safe haven if they trade for Miles Bridges. Imagine fitting that category, while a sizable contingent of vocal Suns fans tries to silence those justified concerns, waving a banner that reads “be quiet and just accept your contentious new player.”

Perhaps the biggest reason the Suns haven’t pulled the trigger yet on a Miles Bridges trade and are continuing to explore other options is their fear of the potential backlash. It’s a real and valid fear, and one the organization should take to heart before using “it’s a business” as a cop-out.

The promise of Phoenix’s first ever NBA championship isn’t enough to justify trading for someone who’s allegedly displayed a pattern of abusive and violent behavior, someone who hasn’t earned the second chance that’s already being force-fed to the uneasy half of the fanbase. And even if they did get over that title hump, does a tainted Larry O’Brien trophy still feel as satisfying for those hundreds of disillusioned and uncomfortable fans?

This is the Suns’ “bigger than basketball moment,” and it’s a gut-check that may define this franchise for years to come.

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