December 2007 Ethics Dunces

George Mitchell and Bud Selig

Former Senator George Mitchell is a straightforward and honest man, a life-time public servant, and about as perfect a candidate to head a high-profile investigation into steroid use as Major League Baseball could have found. So why in the world did he allow his integrity to be vulnerable to attack by remaining on the Board pf Directors of the Boston Red Sox as he took over this sensitive assignment? It was an obvious conflict of interest, not only because his connection to the management and ownership of a team meant that he could not be termed a neutral party, but because that team was the Boston Red Sox. Mitchell, a Vermonter, is a life-time Red Sox fan, and while that doesn't mean that he would corrupt his investigation to stick it to the New York Yankees, he had to know that many writers and fans would accuse him of doing so if the Pinstripers took a particularly hard hit from his report. And this was always likely: already two New York stars, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, had been sullied by the Balco. Investigation. Moreover, the Yankee franchise "winning is the only thing that matters" culture under owner George Steinbrenner was exactly the kind of pressure-cooker that could push a player to cheat.

Sure enough, a disproportional number of Yankee stars were implicated in Mitchell's report, while no equivalent status Red Sox stars were revealed as steroid or human growth hormone users during their tenure with the team. And sure enough, the sports pages in the Big Apple are full of fans and writers crying "Foul!" They say a Red Sox official used his position to besmirch the hated Yankees, while protecting his own team's steroid-using players. As proof, they offer the fact that while steroid use by prominent Yankees is heavily discussed, the only Red Sox stars implicated are those who began injecting after they abandoned the team for bigger contracts: Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens.

It's nonsense, of course. The heavy New York contingent on the list was obviously a bi-product of the fact that a steroid-pushing New York Mets clubhouse attendant was Mitchell's main source, and a former Yankee strength coach was another. But this is why "the appearance of impropriety" is an ethical offense, and why conflicts of interest needs to be heeded even when the individual who is conflicted thinks that his record of integrity should be a sufficient antidote. This report is a critical one for baseball, and both Mitchell and Commissioner Bud Selig, who appointed him, should have known that the report's author could not carry any hint of conflict, no matter how attenuated or absurd. Mitchell should have resigned from the Red Sox board, and if he would not, Selig should have appointed someone else. It is too late now, and some Yankee fans will never believe that the Mitchell Report was truly impartial.




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