June 2007 Ethics Dunces

Baseball Commentators

As Barry Bonds nears the successful conclusion of his joyless and tainted pursuit of baseball's all-time home run record, the chorus of his admirers, defenders, and apologists for Bonds and his fellow slugging steroid-users has grown larger and louder, the latter because most of them seem to opine from behind microphones rather than keyboards. Why it is that ESPN analysts and club broadcasters are so much more willing to ignore Bonds' cheating ways---and Sammy Sosa's, and Jason Giambi's---than their journalistic counterparts is uncertain, but it probably has something to do with all the former players doing the talking. As individuals who know first hand how hard it is to connect one's bat with a 95 mph fastball and hit it into the stands, they seem to be so impressed with the sheer majesty of Bonds' numbers that they choose to minimize the fact that Barry broke the rules and the law to achieve them.

I know the Scoreboard has been down this road before, but the arguments in support of Bonds, Sosa, and Giambi (AND Mark McGwire, and other cheats yet unknown) keep coming back like Hydra heads, each time less excusable and more ethically offensive than before. A brief review for the benefit of recently exposed ethics dolts like ESPN's John Kruk, Fox Sports' Kevin Kennedy, and XM radio's Ron Dibble:

  • Kennedy and others argue that New York first baseman Jason Giambi wasn't necessarily admitting steroid use when he answered a question from a USA Today reporter about steroids, "I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up -- players, ownership, everybody -- and said, "We made a mistake.'" "Who knows what he was referring to?" Kennedy has said. This is intellectual dishonesty, though applying the term "intellectual" to Kennedy's radio partner Rob Dibble, who agrees heartily with Kennedy, is like discussing empathy in sharks. Gee, you're right Kevin; the possibilities of what Giambi was referring to as "stuff"---not exactly an unusual term for drugs, by the way---are endless. Like, "I was wrong to pull that little girl's braids when I was in the third grade…and, in that vein, we should have stood up and admitted we made a mistake about steroids!" Sure that makes perfect sense. Maybe stuff meant rude noises in church, or armed robbery, or chewing with his mouth open…who knows, really? Just because the entire context of his comments is steroids doesn't mean he isn't talking about making imprudent guess when he plays "Clue," right? If you want to pretend you're an idiot, that's your privilege, but don't treat the rest of us like one.

  • "Bonds [or Giambi or the others] is innocent until proven guilty; that's the American way." The on-air steroid-cheats defenders say this over and over again. Will someone please educate these college drop-outs that that's the American way before we lock people up for crimes, and this is the only thing "innocent until proven guilty [in a court of law is the part Kruk at al. never learned]" refers to? In fact, Bonds is a perfect example of how so-called "circumstantial evidence" (actually, much of it is very direct) can build an air-tight case. Bonds performance improved dramatically after he passed the age in which virtually every other player in baseball history showed a decline. At the same time, his body changed in the manner typical of steroid users. His trainer at this time is a convicted steroid peddler, who is serving a contempt sentence in prison for refusing to testify about Bonds' steroid use. A well-documented book, "Game of Shadows," by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters documents the timing, motivation and extent of Bonds' steroid use though interviews and court documents. If it were false, it would be an obvious case of libel, and mega-millionaire Bonds would have every reason to sue them to clear his name, and no reason not to…except one: if they were correct, and a law suit would simply prove in court what everyone should know anyway, it would be crazy for Bonds to sue. He's not suing. Pop Quiz: Why do you think that is?
  • Kruk and others like to make the point that Bonds was an MVP, a great player and a certain Hall of Famer before the "alleged" steroid use turned him into Super Slugger, as if this means that his cheating shouldn't matter. An interesting ethical principle is being put forward here, with broad applications. If you're a great and successful novelist, the fact that you publish another writer's work as your own doesn't matter. If you're a brilliant student, why should anyone punish you for cheating on your exams? If you're a billionaire anyway, inside trading shouldn't be a crime, should it? The fact that someone cheated when their performance was superior anyway doesn't make that individual less culpable or more admirable. It just indicates extra layers of greed, arrogance and selfishness over the core dishonesty involved.

  • "Baseball, not the players who cheated, is the real culprit, because it didn't have sufficient penalties, policies and enforcement in place during the so-called Steroid Era."
  • This is a current favorite among the arguments, an echo of Giambi's comments if you assume that "stuff" referred to something actually germane to his interview. Bulletin: in a democracy, we rely on individuals to do the right thing and obey the laws without having an iron fist shaken in their faces. Honest people don't cheat, even if they get away with it, even if "everybody" is doing it. Baseball players are paid heroes and role models. If we can't trust them to do the right thing, they are in the wrong profession.

There are lots more ethically dim-witted arguments, but these are sufficient to establish this month's latest Ethics Dunces' bona fides.




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