Topic: Sports & Entertainment
The Palmeiro Mess, continued
Most sportswriters are ill-equipped to do much more than give readers a relatively accurate description of a sporting contest, so when a story pulls them into the wilds of ethical analysis, as the Rafael Palmeiro steroid bust has, the results are not likely to be pretty.
Case in point: ESPN’s Buster Olney has repeatedly been asked if he would still vote for the Orioles first-baseman for membership in the Hall of Fame, now that baseball’s random testing system has exposed Palmeiro as a steroid user. Buster said, well, yes. After all, he doesn’t know for sure whether Palmeiro used those illegal and prohibited drugs to amass his Hall of Fame-worthy achievements, Olney explained. How can he vote against him when he’s going to have to vote for four or five players he knows used steroids to set their records because their steroid use was never proven? That wouldn’t be fair!
And thus we know that at least one sportswriter couldn’t spot fairness if it was labeled with a neon sign. Uh, Buster, if you really are 100% sure a player used steroids, what difference does it make whether he was caught doing it or not? You still don’t want such a player in the Hall of Fame, because you know he got there by cheating. Would you set your sister up on a date with O.J. Simpson just because he wasn’t convicted of killing his wife? (1)
We, like Buster Olney, know the Yankees’ Jason Giambi admitted his steroid use to a grand jury. Mark McGwire’s evasive responses to inquiries during the Congressional hearings made it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that he had cheated on his way to 500 career homeruns. The accumulated weight of Barry Bond’s career track, his close relationships with convicted steroid pushers, his leaked grand jury testimony and laughable explanations that he was tricked into using steroids mark him as another one of Olney’s “four or five.” Ditto the formerly English-speaking Sammy Sosa’s sudden inability to speak anything but Spanish the instant he was asked about steroid use. But even if these players whose use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs rightly should exclude them from the Hall somehow sneak in, why would that preclude Buster Olney from holding Palmeiro accountable for what the evidence shows he did? Is Olney seriously arguing that it’s “not fair” to hold someone legitimately accountable for misconduct as long as someone similarly prominent got away with the same thing.
Yes, he is. Like many people, sportswriters are suckers for a popular corollary to the “Everybody does it” rationalization: the “Other people have done it and gotten away with it, so it’s unfair for anyone to be penalized for the same conduct now” variation. The O. P. H. D.I A. G. A W. I. makes no sense at all upon even casual examination, but like many currently popular rationalizations for unethical conduct, it gained a large following after being generously employed by Bill Clinton’s defenders during his Monica Lewinsky crisis. “Lots of other Presidents cheated on their wives,” the argument went, “so why should Clinton be the only one punished for it?”
Why? Quite apart from the fact that Clinton’s legal problem was not that he cheated on his wife but that he lied about it under oath, and setting aside the fact that the Clinton surrogates who advanced this line of defense often impugned the fidelity of past presidents whose supposed guilt was based on only on rumor and hearsay, the answer is stunningly simple. He got caught. If serial philanderer JFK had been caught with such mistresses as the mob boss’s girlfriend or the Israeli double-agent, he would have been impeached. If President Harding had been caught in one of his many extra-marital sexual adventures in 1920, he would have been ridden out of the White House on a rail. Kennedy and Harding weren’t caught, but how does that good fortune (for them) dictate leniency for a president who wasn’t so lucky? Should a pro-football great who is arrested with a bloody knife in his hands after killing his wife be able to argue that it’s unfair to punish him when O.J. is still haunting the golf links?
Two wrongs don’t make a right, folks. Do you think Buster Olney might have encountered that one before?
But perhaps it is truly unfair for us to highlight the ethical cluelessness of a mere reporter of the Palmeiro affair when so many other parties directly involved have shown such extreme unfamiliarity with basic ethical concepts. The Scoreboard’s scorecard on the growing list of ethically-tainted participants:
1. And let’s have a moratorium on the legally accurate but logically absurd argument that Palmeiro’s positive drug test from May doesn’t “prove” that he had ever used steroids before May. Does anyone actually believe that two months after truthfully testifying to Congress that he never used steroids and never would, Palmeiro suddenly became a steroid devotee for the first time? The logical principle of “Occam’s Razor” applies: the simplest explanation is almost always the correct one. Palmeiro is a steroid user who decided that a brazen lie to Congress was the way to go. The straight-shooter Palmeiro pretended to be in front of Congress would never use steroid, period. The lying fraud we now know he is would have been using them all along.