THE CURIOUS BANNING OF ZACH JESSE

***Given the sensitive nature of this post's subject matter, please be mindful, respective, and civil if deciding to participate in the comments/discussion. Also, I ask that you read this post in its entirety, and while I recommend reading some of the linked material, it's not entirely necessary***

On July 1, 2015, a Magic player by the name of Zach Jesse was banned from sanctioned Magic tournaments/events by Wizards of the Coast (WotC)/DCI until 2049. Not quite a Lifetime banning, but it might as well be. Then again, I may still be collecting and playing Magic: The Gathering in the year 2049 if I'm lucky enough to still be alive and kicking!

While the title [above] may lack the flowing ring of the movie it parodies, I felt it was fitting. Not necessarily because the reasoning behind the action was curious, but because of how it was handled (is still being handled) and what it may imply long-term for the Magic community as a whole.

No reverse-aging Magic players were harmed during this banning. Just an individual's ability to compete in sanctioned Magic events (or play MTGO, as his account was also seized). An individual with a checkered past (putting it lightly, forgive me), which raised questions over the inconsistency of a company's policies.

You Know What They Say About the Past

You can run, but...

You can run, but...

It always catches up with you. And so was the case with Zach Jesse.

It appears that the attention Zach Jesse was receiving came after he was in the Top 8 of multiple events (or just doing well, in general), and as everyone knows, there comes a price with rising fame: The Internet.

After making the Top 8 at Grand Prix Atlantic City, "Pro" Magic player Drew Levin posted the following on Twitter:

The link goes to an article about the incident from The Hook. Warning: Graphic Subject Matter.

The link goes to an article about the incident from The Hook. Warning: Graphic Subject Matter.

For added good measure... and then some, but we can stop here.

For added good measure... and then some, but we can stop here.

One by one people rallied to Levin, seeking more to share in their chorus of hate...

One by one people rallied to Levin, seeking more to share in their chorus of hate...

I can only imagine that one day, after seeing who's placing in the Top 8 of tournaments, Drew decides to research those he isn't familiar with on Google, which leads to him running across that linked article from 2004. Then, once learning about Zach Jesse's history and seeing he was making Top 8 in Atlantic City, tweeted that out to the world, rallying a mob mentality to remove/ban Jesse. They eventually achieved that goal earlier this month.

The TL;DR (and absence of the graphic nature) of the article linked above: Zach Jesse pleaded Guilty to Aggravated Sexual Battery, taking a plea bargain to serve 3 months of an 8 year sentence. Given the nature of the crime, I'm sure many would argue that the time doesn't match the crime, even myself, but that was the outcome.

After Levin's tweet went live and the controversial debate began, Zach eventually released a statement on the matter via Reddit. He addresses the criminal charges, the issue of public safety in relation to his personal growth since the crime, and attempts to put an end to misinformation going around on both sides of the debate.

A little more...

A little more...

The Ban Hammer Comes Down

Once again, the community was (is) divided over a heated, though undoubtedly more sensitive, topic. Most simply argued that Jesse shouldn't be "featured" during sanctioned events. That pretty much eliminates any opportunity to play Magic professionally. Others believed that he should be straight up banned. They also want those with criminal records (specifically sexual assault/battery/rape) to be publicly known. On the flip side of the debate, players believed Zach Jesse had done his time, regardless of how long and whether people felt that time period was enough. They also argue that others within the professional Magic community have been convicted of crimes. How do you regulate and/or go about choosing which are viable for banning?

The masses proved too much, and their goal was achieved!

The masses proved too much, and their goal was achieved!

Roughly two months pass and, amid the controversy, the banning was officially executed. Whatever level of animosity within the community that had died down in those two months was, once again, ignited. Mob justice had succeeded, but plenty of individuals called foul. Even a petition (or two) was set up in attempts to have the banning revoked. Many within the community wanted answers, but WotC remained, essentially, tight-lipped (a second thread had to be opened).

The Thin Red[dit] Line

The official statement wasn't enough to satisfy the outcry...

The official statement wasn't enough to satisfy the outcry...

Now, first off — though I wish I didn't have to make a point of this — I am not a rape-apologist (as the Anti-Jesse camp likes to accuse of those speaking out about the banning). I think rape is a very violent, serious crime. It's a heinous act. I personally know multiple people (dear loved ones, no less) who have been victims of rape and the struggles they've faced seeking justice (and the failure to receive it). Chances are I know more who haven't confided that level of personal information to me.

And how is this determined and executed exactly? Via social media...?

And how is this determined and executed exactly? Via social media...?

This isn't a debate as to whether rape/sexual battery is serious. It is. To suggest a difference of opinion on the justification of the banning (and seizure of a MTGO account) shows otherwise is asinine and ignorant. It's about the execution of a company's policies.

Where do you draw the line? Which crimes are punishable (no matter how far in the past they may be) and warrant a banning, lifetime or otherwise? Is it just felonies? Do you run background checks on all participants in an event or only those that Top 8 and make the Finals? Do you announce players' criminal histories at events? When are Magic: The Gathering Online accounts able to be seized when they basically have no in-person interactions among clients?

Is death (figurative or literal) the ultimate consequence?

Is death (figurative or literal) the ultimate consequence?

According to their ToS (in regards to Magic Online, that is), they basically have free reign to punish/ban as they deem fit, with little or no explanation. Just because they can, however, doesn't necessarily mean they should. To do so, with such reckless abandon, can come with serious consequences.

"... [WIZARDS] MAY, IN ITS SOLE DISCRETION AND WITHOUT NOTICE, TERMINATE YOUR ACCESS TO THE GAME AND GAME SERVICES, AND SUSPEND OR DEACTIVATE YOUR ACCOUNTS WITH NO LIABILITY TO IT RELATING THERETO."

What many in the community want is consistency. An announcement of what the policies are and have them executed fairly, without bias, across the board. If WotC wants to cut off felons, then so be it, it's their prerogative. Only sexual offense felons? Then state that, though the reasoning behind picking and choosing specific offenses may draw backlash, like it already is. I have family with felonies on their record. Are they not welcomed to play at sanctioned events? Are there any other felons within the community that are "professional" players?

The answer to that last one is yes and I will get into that soon.

Leaving things vague and inconsistent only seems to imply that the company doesn't want policies that are written in stone. One of the reasons is likely the freedom to carry out actions like they did with Zach Jesse. For the next player they wish to ban. I understand that Hasbro/WotC have a brand they need to protect. The news about Jesse going viral and the implications that they are supportive of criminals — more so, one committing Aggravated Sexual Battery — (which they aren't, but you can't control the perception of others) by proxy in that they allowed one to participate in sanctioned events (and apparently play online), makes for terrible publicity that runs the risk of alienating current and future players. I also understand that there sometimes exists the need for case by case basis, to gather and review as much information as possible in context to make an informed decision, before doling out rulings.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Zach Jesse. The banning seemed almost completely fueled by mob justice and it seems to be acknowledged in their official statement. Some more questions:

Is Jesse a threat to others at sanctioned events? What of his personal strides at redemption? Is there an actual point where criminals are accepted back into society without being shunned/ostracized, or is that a fallacy? Is it completely dependent on the crime and severity? How long ago it was? If he [Jesse] had served a year, or five, or the full eight years of his sentence, would people feel more comfortable agreeing that his time was served?

Who has the right to decide an individual deserves extended punishment for their past crimes after serving their time?

Who has the right to decide an individual deserves extended punishment for their past crimes after serving their time?

I find these ethical questions intriguing, and I don't know the answers. I don't know that there is any one definitive answer for any of them. One thing is fact, regardless of how you or I feel about it. Zach Jesse went through the court system, received a punishment (likely agreed upon by both sides) for his crime, and completed his sentencing. Are you and I, as a community, or Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast, as a gaming company, really the ones who should be deciding that (and what) further punishment is justified and exacting that judgement as deemed "fitting" by whatever beliefs involved?

I am speaking out, not over the simple banning of a magic player, but the reasoning behind it. Again, if WotC states that individuals that have committed specific crimes are not allowed to participate in their tournaments/sanctioned events, so be it. Great. They have a right to appease their community as they see fit, and it is important to provide a safe environment for all players, just as they state. But the community at large wants those policies announced and articulated, so that everyone understands the rules and regulations WotC will be upholding/enforcing.

Apparently some didn't learn this lesson soon enough... See below...

Apparently some didn't learn this lesson soon enough... See below...

I personally feel people have the right to know the rules/regulations/policies before they spend copious amounts of money to participate in a company's events only to be eventually ostracized if they actually play well and people take notice — once their history is then scoured and put on display. Everyone knows Magic: The Gathering isn't a cheap hobby. Create an even playing field of public awareness, where the community understands what is expected of them, as players, and all policies — applicable to everyone — that exist, explained in full detail and enforced without bias.

"Appointed by the kha himself, members of the tribunal ensure all disputes are settled with the utmost fairness." - Rule of Law

Walking Contradictions

Earlier I mentioned that there are, indeed, "professional" individuals within the Magic community who have committed crimes and it's fully known by Hasbro/WotC/DCI, but it's largely ignored (if not touted as an example of "second chances"). One of these individuals is not only in the Magic Hall of Fame, but is basically the "poster child" of the game. That individual is Patrick Chapin. He is a convicted drug dealer sentenced for the trafficking of Ecstasy (it's rumored his clientele were high school children). The key witness testifying against Chapin died previous to the trial, which likely lead to a lesser sentence. Not implying anything, just stating a fact. Patrick did his time, and eventually climbed the ranks within the Magic community, eventually being inducted into the Hall of Fame (a positive article [2012] on the subject).

One felon is idolized...

One felon is idolized...

One felon is, well...

One felon is, well...

Throughout the debates, many cited that Patrick Chapin was also a felon, yet was not only allowed to play in sanctioned events, but is heavily lauded by WotC and fans alike. Admittedly, many [fans] weren't aware of Chapin's past, myself included — my original points of contention with Chapin were addressed earlier.

It amazes me how many people defend Chapin for his crimes. I've even witnessed people saying "Ecstasy isn't that bad." Says who? You? Those calling for Jesse's ban argue that the two crimes are basically night and day, and what was done to Zach's victim is much more traumatizing in nature. That may be true, but — again — this isn't an argument over one crime being more deplorable than another. It's about consistency in the execution of company policies.

Is it possible to protect everyone from their personal fears?

Is it possible to protect everyone from their personal fears?

Wizards of the Coast states they wish to provide a welcoming and safe environment for all players! ALL. Not just women (or anyone with personal opinions/experiences with the subject matter) who may feel threatened that an individual playing at the same event is a felon who committed a sexual crime. No one can decide for us what we fear, or find inexcusable, what makes us feel unsafe. We are all different, and harbor our own personal experiences. How those experiences affect us in the long-run, how they are processed, by and large, depends solely on the individual.

I, for example, am less threatened and afraid of playing in the same tournament as Zach Jesse, because I feel I have nothing to fear from him. Women, especially those who have endured such a horrific experience mirrored by his crime, on the other hand, may not feel safe. Rightly so.

Not everyone gets one...

Not everyone gets one...

Do you honestly believe there aren't people who won't take offense and parents who would rather not have their children involved in a hobby where a convicted drug dealer is championed by the company and fans?! Get real!

What makes one crime forgivable and not the other? To what restrictions are "second chances" held?

Once again, this is all brought into question due to the random penalties divvied out by WotC with no clear indication of what's what. Most suspension/banning rulings are based off of actual actions and behaviors carried out during sanctioned events and/or within the community. Like stating threats of bodily harm and/or death, stealing, or cheating. These are the most common. I unaware of any based off of past crimes, let alone those committed 10+ years ago, not directly associated with Magic: The Gathering.

If that's the new standard, then make it the standard across the board. Whether broad-stroked (felons) or cherry-picked (sexual assault/battery criminals), take a stance, make an announcement, and follow through unbiased. No exceptions. I don't care what status they hold within the community!

Where's the Beef?

Two different peas in the same pod...

Two different peas in the same pod...

There are some difference between Chapin and Jesse, and I'm not talking about past crimes. I'm talking about their etiquette and infractions delivered during actual Magic: The Gathering sanctioned events. To my knowledge, Zach Jesse hasn't acted inappropriately during any sanctioned events he's participated in. No outbursts, no threats, no cheating, etc etc.

Chapin, on the other hand, I have witnessed and written about his cheating and lying (or attempting to weasel out by downplaying the situation) in one of the only feature matches I've watched him play in. Multiple saw it, pointed it out, and nothing was done. Once again, fans defended his actions, making up excuses, and justified the cheating any way they could.

Having favorites is fine! But playing favorites isn't cool! Stay in school! I, Uh... Yeah...! Because it clearly doesn't exist in that environment...

Having favorites is fine! But playing favorites isn't cool! Stay in school! I, Uh... Yeah...! Because it clearly doesn't exist in that environment...

My point is, not only is Chapin a felon, a convicted drug dealer, but he has proven to be among those who "...act without integrity and those who acted in an unsporting manner." That quote is from a direct statement, vocalizing their stance on cheating, given by Wizards of the Coast. Regardless of whatever decision Wizards of the Coast comes to in terms of past crimes affecting one's ability to compete at a professional level, they appear to ignore otherwise blatant cheating by a figurehead within the community.

How deeply rooted are their double standards? If this favoritism exists at a professional level, what does that say for the integrity of the game itself? For the company?

I wouldn't have anxiety playing against Patrick Chapin in a tournament because he is a convicted drug dealer. Or because he is a celebrity of the game/community. I'd have anxiety because I have literally witnessed him cheating. Not only that, but the incident being glossed over. Should I have to endure being put in the position where I have to worry more about my opponent's integrity, focusing on them and their gameplay, than my own strategies?

I'd hope not!

The Proverbial Slippery Slope

Wizards of the Coast, if you want to maintain the ban on Zach Jesse, that's fine by me, it's your company. Your game. But if you continue to make such inconsistent decisions without giving any articulation as to what your actual policies are, it instills a lack of certainty among some within the community. It's a double-edged sword, really. Some may feel safer, others may feel the desire to distance themselves from a company that doesn't follow any set standard policies and merely picks and chooses among those who share similar lifestyles/histories.

In the tournaments I've participated in, there are announcements given about protecting your belongings due to theft. Wrap the strap of your bag around your foot/leg. If someone has a history of theft in their past, should they be banned? Will you enforce drug testing and background checks? These are just a few of the questions, along with those listed above, that some players ask now. Just how deep is the rabbit hole? What's next in store for the community?

Over these past 4 months alone, there have been many major controversies hitting your doorstep. Many of them involving issues circulating around the subjects of equality (video footage review) and community etiquette (#GoyfGate). Some of them are inspired by your actions taken as a company, others by your lack thereof.

Will you cherry-pick and play favorites? Or will you not only attempt to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed and safe, but one that is also fair and equal for everyone who spends their time, money, love, and passion on your game/products/events?

I fear that if the wrong path is chosen, it's a slipper slope indeed.

Proceed with caution...!

Proceed with caution...!

***Again, I want to stress that if you decide to participate in this discussion that you read the post in its entirety, remain civil, and be respectful. This is a place for discussion, not flame wars!***

What is your opinion regarding the banning of Zach Jesse? Do you feel the right choice was made? Why or why not? Do you feel WotC made a mistake giving in to mob justice? Do you feel there is a lack of transparency and articulation about what WotC's policies are? If so, How do you feel it could be rectified?

Do you believe there is the genuine possibility of criminals being reintegrated into society sans having their past being held against them? It may be easier on a personal/individual level to offer second chances, but what does a company like Wizards of the Coast do in a situation like this, where they have to appease the masses, trying to make everyone happy?

What is your opinion on Patrick Chapin being inducted into the Hall of Fame, celebrated, and allowed to compete on a professional level, despite being a convicted drug dealer? What about his cheating being overlooked by WotC/DCI and fans? Do you believe it's possible that bias and favoritism currently exists within the Magic community and WotC? If so, what are some steps you feel could/should be taken to eliminate it?