Topic: Sports & Entertainment

More Cheap Joke Ethics

Ned Beatty, the Academy Award-winning character actor, once noted in an interview that total strangers still thought it was funny to make squealing pig sounds at him when they passed him in the street. Beatty, you may recall, was the victim in a harrowing homosexual rape scene in “Deliverance.” Reducing a distinguished acting career to one sordid moment insulted Beatty and was neither fair nor funny. But even if it was hilarious, it is unethical to ignore the feelings of the human object of a cheap joke, and fail to do any ethical balancing to determine whether the attempted guffaw is worth the pain it inflicts. This is true whether the target is famous or not. Undoubtedly, celebrities do not deserve the same degree of consideration as private individuals who have not bartered away their anonymity and privacy for notoriety and fame. But even for them, there are limits.

A man who has suffered more than most from nasty cheap-shot jokes is Bill Buckner. The former baseball star’s near-Hall of Fame-caliber career has been completely over-shadowed by the video images of the infamous ground ball dribbling between his legs in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, capping a miracle comeback by the New York Mets that prevented the Boston Red Sox from winning the World Series 18 years before that team’s own miracle in 2004. Assorted jerks in Boston and elsewhere have harassed, teased and abused Buckner about his fielding miscue ever since, despite the fact that it neither lost the Series nor was the major factor in the loss of that game. Despicably, some also turned their mockery on Buckner’s family children, ultimately driving the Buckner family out of New England. Needless to say, nothing about Mookie Wilson’s game-winning grounder is funny to Bill Buckner. And after more than two decades, it should be obvious that needling the man about his unfortunate place in World Series lore is gratuitously mean.

So why is this ancient topic even on the Scoreboard’s radar screen? Simple. I saw a recent edition of Sports Illustrated that high-lighted up-and-coming young athletes, and one of them was Buckner’s son, Bobby. The caption over the photographs of the two men read: “The Goat and The Kid.” This prompted an indignant letter to the magazine by Buckner’s wife Judy, and justly so. While it is unfair to continually hound Buckner about his famous gaffe, he was a professional athlete and knew that such undeserved infamy was an occupational risk. But Bobby Buckner is a young man who deserves a clean slate. For Sports Illustrated to salute the young man’s early athletic success and then use the opportunity to ridicule his father and tie the son to Bill Buckner’s career nadir goes well beyond unfair to cruel.

With current sports figures torturing helpless animals, breaking records with the aid of illegal substances, and getting arrested for everything from drunk driving to fire-arm violations, the magazine has a surplus of targets who richly deserve to be criticized and mocked. It should have the decency to respect the innocent, like Bill Buckner’s son, and for that matter, Buckner himself. He’s had to suffer too much for jokes that were never that funny to begin with.

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