(Editor’s Note. Evan Weiner is a frequent contributor to the Digest. This article reflects a different perspective on the impact of performance enhancing drugs on sport and on journalistic ethics. It is an article that anyone working in the field of sport administration and management should read).
It probably was not a good Friday for Jayson Stark and his cohorts who are members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Barry Bonds is not going to jail despite the best efforts of the federal government and Stark’s cohorts to convict him of some heinous crime for allegedly taking steroids. The baseball scribes’ handpicked choice to be the Most Valuable Player in the National League, Ryan Braun, allegedly failed a drug test.
Barry Bonds, pending appeal, will have to spend 30 days under house arrest at his home in the 90210 zip code, the same zip code that was part of an old FOX television show, Beverly Hills 90210.
Bonds can always make an appearance on the CW Network’s 90210 to re-enforce his house arrest status at some point. Bonds will also receive some other restrictions as part of a sentence that included two years’ probation and a fine of $4000.
The United States Government spent multimillions of dollars in prosecuting Bonds.
The “people” were not impressed with the case or drug usage in sports.
That makes another group that has yawned at the drug integrity issue.
Included in that group are cable TV executives from Disney (ESPN) and Time Warner who give baseball truckloads of money for the right to carry MLB games on their distribution platforms and Rupert Murdoch (the alleged tough guy on crime if the Murdoch-owned FOX News Channel and New York Post are indicative of his thinking) who lavishly spends on baseball nationally and in some cable markets like Los Angeles and Dallas and San Diego for his regional networks.
MLB’s corporate partners don’t seem to be too perturbed with baseball’s banned substance past nor do those who buy luxury boxes, club seats and season tickets. The only ones who seem to be bothered are Stark and his cronies and grandstanding politicians circa 2005, 2006.
Stark and his BBWWA colleagues cheered Major League Baseball’s (using Commissioner Bud Selig’s term) “renaissance” in the late 1990s which was fueled in part by a home run record race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Both men were accused by the scribes (including a classless bit of showboating by the scribe anointed as “great” by his peers Rick Reilly. The greatest writer of them all wanted to take Sosa for a drug test in what is now accepted as the truest form of self appointed seriousness in all of tabloid journalism) of taking performance enhanced drugs in the steroids category. Eventually in 2005 McGwire and Sosa were hauled before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss steroids and other banned substance abuse in Major League Baseball.
As a result of Congressional pressure, the Major League owners and the Major League Players Association agreed to a stronger drug testing policy with meatier suspensions handed out to players who failed drug tests.
The Milwaukee Brewers player Ryan Braun failed a drug test and is now challenging the finding. Braun is facing a 50 game suspension and loss in pay.
In a country where the credo of innocent until proven guilty has become a forgotten proverb, Ryan Braun has been given the scarlet letter A by Jayson Stark. The baseball writers have coined a phrase to give them cover for keeping certain suspected steroid and other banned substance users or players out of the Hall of Fame. Those performers who complied record performing statistics between 1992 and 2006 were said to have performed during the “steroid era”. Never mind that performance enhancing substances were probably used in baseball as in other sports long before 1992.
The baseball writers and their little group—the BBWWA, a group that is about as relevant as McSorley’s Old Ale House in Greenwich Village was to women prior to a judge’s ruling in 1970 that they saloon had to admit women into the establishment—have assumed a moral guardianship of Major League Baseball.
Members of the BBWWA thought the “steroids” era was done and they could get back to doing what they did best —scribble a few sentences about the game and enjoy baseball. Braun’s test result became a problem and Stark on the Mike and Mike show on ESPN Radio said Braun would have to live with a possible 50 game suspension for the rest of his life.
Stark and his colleagues seem to be reading from the 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne classic. “The Scarlet Letter” and seem to be confusing Braun with Hester Prynne, the woman who was scorned by puritan Boston in the 1640s according to Hawthorne. Prynne had to wear a scarlet A because she was an adulterer.
Stark seems to think Braun should have some letter attached to his clothing too. Maybe a “C” for cheater because sports people think that taking banned substances or performance enhancing drugs is not law breaking but cheating and they need to go all out in protecting the integrity of the sport.
Bud Selig’s history does not involve integrity at integrity’s purest level. He was one of 26 owners caught colluding in the 1980s for price fixing and artificially keeping down salaries. An arbitrator fined the owners $280 million. Selig was one of the 28 owners (a group that included George W. Bush) who were found bargaining in bad faith during the 1994 Major League Baseball strike and there is the sordid episode of Selig and the Wisconsin legislature in the run- up to the lawmakers approving funding for a new Milwaukee baseball park in the late 1990s.
Integrity is not a major concern for the barons of baseball or baseball’s guardians —the scribes.
While Stark and his associates bemoan the Braun drug test result, they are not saying very much about the Security and Exchange Commission’s investigation of the financing of the new Miami stadium. They are not writing very much about the debt problems of the baseball and football stadiums in Cincinnati and how Hamilton County is struggling to pay down the debt at the Cincinnati Reds ballpark. Those are worthy issues that somehow never get “face time” at Stark’s employees “franchise” show, ESPN’s Sports Center.
Nor do those issues appear on the ESPN news shows that make sportswriters look like a bad caricature of Neil Simon’s Odd Couple creation Oscar Madison on the Around the Horn and Sunday Sports Reporters shows. Those shows don’t exactly show the scribes in a positive light.
Stark’s putting a badge of dishonor on Braun for failing a drug test came during a period when one time Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was waiving his right to a hearing in his child sex abuse case; when the men accusing former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine of child molestation where suing both the school and Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim for defamation and when Chicago Bears player Sam Herd was arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute large quantities of cocaine and marijuana.
The Bonds sentencing put a bright bow on the real world of sports this week, a world that is not supposed to collide with the toy aisle of journalism —sports reporting.
Braun will keep his MVP gift. (The question of whether sportswriters should be voting for baseball awards is one the writers don’t like to address. Some newspapers have barred writers from voting on sports and entertainment awards and with good reason. Writers should not vote on awards considering that the award participates are subjects of their articles and columns. The subjects can use the awards given to them by the writers for monetary gain. It is totally unethical). But the scorned writers may never give him another award again in his career.
The BBWAA members who are eligible to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame are now considering another group for entry into Baseball’s Valhalla. One of the players being considered is Mark McGwire who was celebrated by Stark and his associates back in 1998. But McGwire has a scarlet letter on his Cardinals uniform. The present day St. Louis Cardinals coach has been turned aside by voters, the scribes, for the Hall of Fame. McGwire, it should be noted, never failed a baseball drug test.
Hell hath no fury like a baseball writer scorned.
Ryan Braun will be cheered by Milwaukee fans when he steps onto the field upon his return in Milwaukee. McGwire will go on with his life no matter what the scribes do. Neither man should be judged by writers who seem to be steeped as a group in 1642 thinking. Braun will serve his sentence (if he doesn’t overturn the test result) and play another day.
Meanwhile Stark’s employers, Disney’s ESPN, sat on the Bernie Fine accusations for nine years and everything related to ESPN’s “news” division should be under scrutiny; but the scribes have no complaints about the so called worldwide leader because Disney hires so many of them like Mike Lupica who has never broken a story in his life. Lupica is a columnist for the New York Daily News, hosts a one hour daily radio show on ESPN’s New York station and is a mainstay on the Sunday show. Disney has co-opted the media and has many BBWAA members on the payroll.
Braun is a marginal story. Sandusky, Fine and Herd are the real stories for journalists. Barry Bonds’ sentencing puts the whole manufactured steroids era into the proper perspective.
It’s not a big deal.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or Amazon Kindle.