Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Ethics and Pete Rose (and never the twain shall meet…)

Now that Pete Rose has (after 14 years of lying about it…indignantly, no less) admitted that he bet on baseball and his own team while managing the Cincinnati Reds, there has been an astounding amount of oxygen flagrantly wasted as pundits and commentators argue about what should happen next, as if the answers were not straightforward and obvious…and they are. Here, in as brief form as possible, are those answers.

  • Should baseball lift its lifetime ban on Rose? Of course not. Players and managers with direct control over games cannot be seen as dealing with gamblers, and this goes double for baseball, which had a major gambling scandal that nearly killed the sport. Rose knew the punishment for gambling, did it anyway, and richly earned his banishment. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that this compulsively dishonest, tax evading, self-centered hustler cannot be trusted. This wasn’t a one-time fall from grace; for Rose, cheating is a life-style.
  • Should Rose be treated more leniently because of his batting records? Absolutely not! If anything, he should be treated more stringently. As a star and (statistically at least) a baseball great, his descent into the slime has done more damage to baseball than any .220 hitter could ever achieve. Perhaps the hardest concept for people to get their minds around when dealing with celebrities, stars, and the famous is this: great accomplishments do not earn the right to misbehave. To the contrary: fame and success creates the responsibility to adhere to higher standards of conduct. Every time society sends the opposite message, it guarantees trouble in the future. People admire and seek to emulate individuals who have done important, remarkable, and well-publicized things, and they always will. When such celebrities embrace anti-social, illegal or unethical conduct, they give credibility to that conduct with some admirers even as they damage their credibility with others.
  • Should Rose be admitted to the Hall of Fame? Oh, I don’t know, why don’t we see what the voters think? The Hall of Fame is a self-defining institution. If the voters think that getting more hits than anyone who ever played the game out-weighs a frontal assault on the game’s integrity, then that’s that. Rose (as far as we know) never bet on baseball while he was a player (although I , for one, wouldn’t bet on THAT), so one can argue that his character as a player is at least as sterling as some of the other talented felons, thugs, drunks and reprobates that are enshrined at Cooperstown. The official criteria for election do include consideration of character and behavior, and this is appropriate; it does not explain how much weight these factors should be given. Dennis Eckersley, recently elected for his relief-pitching prowess, once admitted that he lost many a game as a starter for the Boston Red Sox because he was drunk as a skunk. As someone who cared quite a bit about the outcome of those games at the time, I don’t think Eck was doing much for the integrity of the game by convincing fans that the Sox had someone on the mound who could put a "yakker" on the inside corner, when in fact he couldn’t walk a straight line. But Eckersley got sober, and the voters decided that his post-hangover career outweighed the happy hours. If they now decide that they want to stink up the Hall with gamblers, fine: I won’t be taking my son there, but they have the right to align values as they see fit. In that case, the Hall should at least adopt George Will’s suggestion that a line on Rose’s plaque remind the world that he was banned from baseball for life.
  • Does good character still have a place in professional sports? Baseball has been criticized for its position on Rose by the ever-vocal "times have changed" crowd, whose argument has always seemed to be that since society has slipped some distance down the civilization scale we might as well take a toboggan the rest of the way. However, the sport is to be admired and thanked for making a dogged effort to keep baseball as true to traditional values, despite all the money, media attention, and hype. While baseball teams have kept players accused of spousal abuse out of line-ups, the NBA continues to celebrate a star undergoing a prosecution for rape. While baseball provides us All-Star Game festivities featuring nostalgia and home-run derbies, the NFL gives its audience crotch-grabbing and a surprise strip-tease.

Baseball is torn between recognizing the accomplishments of one of its greatest players, and reaffirming its core values. It isn’t a pleasant choice, but it should be an easy one. The best interest of the sport, its fans, and the culture is for Major League Baseball to make it clear that Pete Rose and his values have no place in the National Pastime.


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