Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Motives Matter

Call it informing, whistle-blowing, ratting out or just plain snitching, the act of exposing the wrong-doing of one’s professional colleagues remains ethically perplexing. The reason for this is that it exposes the point where utilitarianism (do what works best for the most people) and reciprocity (do to others what you would like done to you) part philosophies. Most of us, at a gut level, feel that exposing a colleague’s misconduct is a breach of fairness and loyalty unless the misconduct’s consequences are so grievous that we are virtually accomplices if we don’t speak up. But what is the level of grievousness that tips the scales? Obviously, it’s a judgement call, and often a very difficult one.

While most professions, such as the law, require their members to report misconduct, most professionals, like lawyers, seldom do so when it means reporting a family member, friend or close associate. Loyalty to an individual usually is stronger than loyalty to a group or institution; human nature works that way. Still, the ethics rules and professional codes that require professionals to rise above personal relationships for the public good have their priorities straight. We don’t want crooked lawyers bilking clients, drunk pilots endangering travelers, corrupt politicians perverting our laws or inept doctors killing patients. If that means ending a friendship or betraying a personal trust, so be it.

Yes, it is easier said than done.

Abu Ghraib and Watergate are two memorable national scandals exposed by informers who the public regards as heroic. So why is the media and much of the public that cares (mostly viewers of ESPN) so vitriolic about the revelations by Jose Canseco, the former baseball MVP who names steroid users, past and present, in his best-selling book, Juiced? Steroids in sports are bad, right? Users are cheaters, right? Jose did the right thing, right?

Why isn’t Jose a hero?

Jose Canseco isn’t a hero because he couldn’t care less about cleansing baseball of performance enhancing drugs; in fact, he’s in favor of them. He never made a reasoned, ethical decision that the necessity of exposing a blight on the integrity of the National Pastime counted more than loyalty to his former team mates. He ratted them out for two motivations that you won’t find in any list of ethical values: greed, and revenge.

Canseco has blown millions of dollars and Hall of Fame level talent with a messy combination of high living, violent outbursts, arrogance and stupidity. He owes back taxes, and is in debt up to his eyeballs; visit his web site, and his World Series ring is for sale. When he was jettisoned from baseball because he was out of shape and could no longer run, throw or hit well enough to induce teams to tolerate his self-centered personality, he loudly complained that he had been "black-balled," and vowed that he would write a tell-all expose of the sport that would make everyone sorry that they treated him so disrespectfully.

Well, he did it. His revelations don’t have quite the punch they might, because Canseco counts frequent lying among his many character flaws, but they have nonetheless fueled the current controversy around the flagrant use of steroids on Major League squads. But Jose gets no points as a whistle-blower, any more than a felon who turns state’s evidence to avoid a longer sentence. He didn’t come forward for baseball, or for high schoolers tempted to use steroids, or for honesty, or for the benefit of the players who played fair and square and ended up looking like mediocrities beside the chemically-enhanced behemoths like Canseco.

He came forward because he needed cash, and because he wanted to hurt people. He is just a rat, a turncoat.

When it comes to distinguishing the whistle-blowers from the snitches, motives are everything.


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