The Butt Slap Heard Round the World: How Ochocinco was Wronged

Published On June 13, 2013 | By Paula Maloney

Leanna Bablitz once wrote, “A gesture is an important means of intensifying the spoken words to raise the emotions of those in the courtroom.”

But a gesture gone wrong in a courtroom can be problematic, as it was when judge Kathleen McHugh had a different interpretation of the physical gesture witnessed in her South Florida courtroom a few days ago.

The courtroom audience erupted in laughter when Johnson seemingly, without malice or forethought, delivered a seemingly innocuous butt slap to the backside of his attorney, Adam Swickle, as a gesture of thanks. Swickle had seemingly worked out a plea deal  in regards to a domestic violence incident that took place last summer between Johnson and his now-ex-wife, Evelyn Lozada.

The New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins wide receiver was due to perform community service and undergo counseling in exchange for no jail time, but after Judge McHugh saw the proverbial  butt slap, she immediately nixed the agreement and threw a metaphorical yellow flag. The penalty was to take Johnson out of the game and put him in jail for 30 days. The audience in the courtroom was quickly silenced as the six-time Pro Bowl player was led away in handcuffs.

I, for one, am a bit dumbfounded by the continuous undoing of Johnson whether it be on the football field or, like this time, in a courtroom. I am not condoning the actions of Johnson that landed him here in court in the first place. What I find disturbing is that the end does not justify the means.

The judge stated to Johnson that he “needed to appreciate all that has been done for him” and accused him of not taking the court proceedings seriously.

How was the single emblematic gesture of a butt slap — which is commonplace amongst football players — deemed a show of disrespect for the court? Should Johnson have done a fist pump? Or perhaps a Clinton thumb?

Johnson delivered the untimely backside slap at an emotionally driven, off the cuff moment. Was there malice behind this? Was Johnson trying to show a vagrant disrespect in the courtroom and for the judge? I think not.

The only other time I can remember a judge and a professional athlete getting into a disagreement like this was in January 1985 on Capital Hill.

John Riggins, a stand-out Washington Redskins player, made headlines when, at a Washington Press Club dinner, he repeatedly uttered to a shocked Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “Come on Sandy baby, loosen up. You’re too tight.” Riggins later passed out at the event and began snoring loudly during Vice President George Bush’s post-dinner speech. Much has been made and parodied of that infamous evening in Washington, D.C., but O’Connor laughed it off. Alcohol was the precipitating cause of Riggins’ remarks.

In the case of Johnson, adrenaline likely precipitated his gesture.

The judge prodded Johnson into recognizing the fact that he should be appreciative of  his lawyer. But in the football world, Johnson’s gesture did just that. Simply put, Swickle and Johnson had become teammates on the courtroom field, and Swickle had Johnson’s back covered as any solid teammate would do.

For now, Ochicinco will be replaying that moment many times over as he awaits an appeal of the decision. Like his career on the gridiron, Johnson is seemingly being held back on the proverbial fourth down with one yard to go. It remains to be seen if Ochocinco can make it into the end zone and start anew in his life both on and off the field. Whether he was right or wrong in that courtroom, Johnson needs to start making better decisions in life.

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About The Author

I grew up outside of Boston with three brothers and immersed in sports early on. I studied at Boston University School of Education and spent summers as a lifeguard in Nantucket where I fell in love with the island and currently reside there. I work in real estate and as a broadcaster for Channel 99 covering the local sports scene on the island. I am an avid athlete but my passion is surfing. I have run three Boston Marathons and one New York Marathon which was truly a runner's high.I am the proud mother of Bizzy, in her second year of law school and Molly, a junior in college majoring in communications.