06/23/2009 AT 8:20 PM ET
Chris Brown won’t go to jail for assaulting Rihanna. The question now is whether his plea-bargained penalty – community labor, probation, domestic violence classes – will reform his behavior and save his career.
PEOPLE readers overwhelmingly said justice wasn’t served Monday when Brown reached a deal with prosecutors in exchange for pleading guilty to felony assault. But some experts take a more forgiving view, saying the R&B star is already off to a good start.
“In accepting a plea bargain, you’re accepting responsibility for your behavior,” says New York City clinical psychologist Jeffery Gardere. And by taking the court-mandated classes, Brown will be forced to face the issues that led him to become violent in the first place. (Brown has said that as a child, he witnessed his mother being abused.) “Part of those classes is talking about what happened as well as learning what your actions can do to victims and to yourself,” he says.
While it remains to be seen how the singer handles his anger, living in the public eye may serve as an extra deterrent. “He’s going to have a lot of people looking at him and hopefully that will keep him from using violence again,” says Dr. Lenore Walker, professor of psychology at NOVA Southeastern University and author of The Battered Woman Syndrome.
What may be harder for Brown – once known as a good boy – is rehabbing his image.
Brown hasn’t released any new music yet. “There are no ‘new’ songs from Chris Brown currently being promoted by Chris or his record label,” according to a statement from his label (although several old demos have apparently surfaced).
But the star has been in the studio recording tracks for his next album, which many hope will include a redemption song. “A song with the proper lyrics and melody can heal wounds,” explains former record label executive Charlie Walk, president and CEO of CWE Media, a multimedia entertainment company. “If he apologizes through song, that may be enough to take him where he needs to go.”
Healing With Music
Even if he doesn’t release a personal song, Brown needs a tune that at least tops the charts, says branding expert Marvet Britto. “Hit records allow people to move past very difficult points in their lives.”
Though music fans may be forgiving, it’s safe to say many players in the corporate world will not be eager to sign a felon to million dollar endorsements deals. (In the past, Brown has had deals with Doublemint gum and the “Got Milk?” campaign.)
“He is going to have serious problems,” says an entertainment lawyer who works with celebrities. “He beat up this beautiful young woman that everyone loves, and now no one wants to touch him.” Adds Britto, “There are parents out there who are concerned.”
Still, recording executive Walk believes there is hope for Brown’s future: “Stars all make mistakes,” he says. “If you are truly a star, you are timeless.”
Reporting by HITHA PRABHAKAR, LESLEY MESSER, TIFFANY McGEE and LIZ McNEIL