By Brandon Niles, Explorebigsky.com Sports Writer

The court of public opinion seems to be a little lenient in professional sports when it comes to domestic violence. Fans harshly criticize players for everything from drunk driving to academic integrity. Michael Vick is perhaps one of the most hated athletes in the world for his role in a dog fighting scandal in 2007. Yet, domestic violence is often brushed off.

Other women’s rights issues are also often disregarded. NBA star Kobe Bryant still has a massive global fan base, despite being accused of sexual assault in 2003. Those charges were dismissed in 2004 and Bryant’s popularity seemed to suffer only slightly in the aftermath. Tiger Woods is arguably more chastised after being exposed for cheating on his wife consensually with multiple mistresses in 2009.

NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has twice been accused of sexual assault. Though Roethlisberger was never formally charged in either case, he has maintained his popularity despite the allegations.

Is there something about sports stars that makes them immune from criticism when it comes to violence toward women? Perhaps in the cases of Bryant and Roethlisberger, the two stars were truly innocent. However, if public opinion can sway people over petty crimes such as stealing a laptop in college (Panthers QB Cam Newton), being arrogant and saying the wrong thing in press conferences (Seahawks WR Terrell Owens), or accepting gifts from boosters (Dolphins RB Reggie Bush), then why do we dismiss allegations of violence towards women?

After years of seeing star players such as Jason Kidd, Manny Ramirez and James Harrison become involved in domestic violence scandals with little to no public relations fallout, it’s difficult not to be saddened by the seemingly absent perspective of fans in regard to the issue. It’s because of this absence I currently applaud the Miami Dolphins, and most importantly, “Basketball Wives” star Evelyn Lozada.

Recently, Miami Dolphins WR and former Bengal Pro Bowler Chad Johnson was arrested for assaulting Lozada, his wife of less than a month-and-a-half. Johnson allegedly head-butted Lozada and was arrested Aug. 11 on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

Since his arrest, the fallout has been remarkable. Johnson was hoping to reignite his career after a disappointing season with the Patriots in 2011. Additionally, he was a common sight on the HBO hit documentary “Hard Knocks,” which follows the training camp each year of an NFL team. Despite the opportunities in front of him, Johnson was released from the team shortly after his arrest. The Dolphins said that the release was due to a poor fit with the team, but it’s hard not to notice the timing of his departure.

Shortly after, Lozada filed for divorce. All of these events occurred over the course of a week, and now Johnson is left grasping for another chance in the NFL.

Johnson has always been controversial due to his pranks with the media and in the locker room, his antics on the field, and his seemingly endless pursuit of media attention. He once changed his name to Chad Ochocinco, in honor of his jersey number 85. He has always been known as a loudmouth, diva receiver, especially during his Pro Bowl years in Cincinnati from 2001 to 2010. However, Johnson hadn’t been involved in previous criminal activity.

Perhaps Johnson will get another chance, but the public perception of him has definitely changed dramatically. This could be because Lozada is a star, and because she moved swiftly to make a statement and file for divorce. This could be a result of the exposure Johnson has received on “Hard Knocks.” For whatever the reason, domestic violence has taken its proper place at the forefront of public opinion because of this incident.

While I feel for Lozada and I hope that this was an isolated incident Johnson will never repeat, I’m encouraged by the attention this issue is getting in the wake of this horrible event. Hopefully this will be a turning of public opinion, and athletes who abuse women will soon be viewed in the dim light they deserve to be seen in.