The controversy over Zach Jesse being banned from playing Magic: The Gathering is quite extraordinary. Not because of the ban itself, but because of how bold a move it is from Wizards of the Coast, who are effectively laying their cards on the table and saying that some convicted criminals deserve a second chance, while others don’t.
To quickly bring you up to speed, Zach Jesse is one of the world’s best Magic players. He made the top eight at the Grand Prix in Atlantic City on the 10th of May this year, which prompted another player, Drew Levin, to expose him as a convicted sex offender:
Levin is referring to an incident in 2003 when Jesse, a 18-year-old student at the University of Virginia, was charged with the rape of another student. He pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault and served three months in jail.
It was public knowledge that Jesse had the sexual assault conviction, but it was only after Drew Levin drew attention to it that Wizards of the Coast decided to ban him from playing Magic.
Not surprisingly there has been a backlash against Zach Jesse, ranging from anger at the short amount of time he spent in jail, to claims that he poses a threat to female competitors at Magic tournaments.
Jesse published his own response, noting:
“There has never been an allegation of sexual impropriety levied against me at any Magic: the Gathering related event. To those of you that feel unsafe, I can sympathize. Understand though that I am allowed to go to concerts, to ride down bike trails, to otherwise interact with people on a daily basis in the outside world, just as other people with my criminal stigma are allowed to do.”
Which brings us to the part of the whole controversy that we really should be focusing on, which is why Wizards have excused convicted drug dealer Patrick Chapin for his crimes.
Far from banning Chapin from playing the game, Wizards went so far as to employ him as an intern, and in 2012 they even elected him in to the Magic Hall of Fame.
Many people would argue strongly that a drug dealer poses less potential hazard to those around him than a sex offender does. Many would also argue that drug dealing is a choice that a person makes for money, and they can equally choose to never deal drugs again, whereas a sex offender is acting on a psychological impulse that may be harder for them to overcome.
Those positions have merit of course, and every individual is entitled to their opinion.
But none of us have a right to inflict our opinions upon others, which is what Wizards have done. They have taken the very bold and very public stance that Magic is “their house” and people have to play by their rules, and one of their rules is that a time-served sex offender is still a threat to those around him, while a time-served drug dealer is no threat at all. (Or, at least, the threat is diminished sufficiently in Wizards’ opinion that they’re willing to take the risk.)
No doubt this issue will be talked about and written about in the Magic world for many months. It’s the most divisive issue to hit the Magic community for a long time, attracting way more attention than cheating ever has. But to the wider world, the really interesting debate is over private companies taking an ethical stance on issues which are already clear in law. The law says that Zach Jesse has served his sentence and is free to continue his life as normal. Wizards of the Coast say no, the law is wrong, and in their house they’re going to overrule the law.