American sports presents a dynamic for which I struggle to find a parallel in any avenue of life. There is no other subject matter or topic that captivates the minds and hearts of so many people on complete opposite ends of demographic spectrums.
What other medium is there that draws the same attention from an 11-year-old boy in Omaha, Nebraska as a Wall Street Executive in New York, New York?
What other medium is there that elicits such passion—love, fear, anger, disappointment—from people who would otherwise have no commonalities?
I suppose one could argue religion fits the bill, but that may even be a stretch.
With this cult-like following of sports teams and their players from town to town, city to city comes an interesting dynamic.
For better or for worse, America is full of people who jump on—and off—bandwagons at the blink of an eye. Note that I didn’t say the majority of American people. I said that people who are fond of jumping on bandwagons are plentiful.
There are fans who don a New York Yankees hat one year, only to switch to a Chicago Cubs hat a few years later.
There are fans who have never lived a day in Dallas, Texas but pledge their allegiance to the Cowboys franchise ever since their much heralded run in the 90s. I know a few.
Whether bandwagon jumping is a good thing or bad is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is it happens.
But bare in mind, it is not just limited to sports fans. It also encompasses the media—specifically the sports media.
As a sports enthusiast, I scour articles from different writers all over the country each and every morning to gain perspective and see what the general consensus is on a variety of topics.
I used to take advantage of the internet to get a feel for how a topic or issue is viewed on the Midwest as opposed to the DC Metropolitan area. It was a nice change up. I say this in the past-tense for a reason.
As of late, a new trend has emerged in sports journalism. That trend is hopping on the bandwagon. This was never more apparent than in the fiasco of February that was the Alex Rodriguez Steroid Saga.
Locked and Loaded: A-Rod
When the news first broke that Alex Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids in 2003, I was a little surprised but not taken completely aback. It was, after all, the most tainted era in baseball history. We had seen each of the homerun “kings” fall from grace in the face of allegations. Why would A-Rod be any different?
The news of A-Rod’s positive test immediately led the analysts on ESPN, among other sports networks, to go on a 24/7 binge of basically forewarning Rodriguez that he had better come out with the truth and admit his wrong doing or else. Sure enough, Rodriguez scheduled an interview with ESPN’s very own Peter Gammons.
What did the media expect from the interview? An admission of guilt and an apology.
Rewind to the Past
Looking back at Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire, the media got anything but that. They got the following:
Bonds—Metaphorically put his finger in the air and gave the media nothing. Lips sealed. Broke the most heralded record in baseball and watched writers and purists cringe.
Sosa—Suddenly forgot how to speak English in front of Congress, an insult to everyone involved.
McGwire—Famously, was not in the mood to speak about the past. Cleverly, he neither admitted or lied about using steroids and weaseled his way into retirement and relative obscurity.
Back to the Present
Based on the previous experiences, one would think that an apology and admission of using a banned substance would suffice for the media.
In the Gammons interview, Rodriguez did both. He said he was sorry, called himself stupid, and admitted to using performance enhancing drugs from 2001-2003—a time when there was no penalty for testing positive for the substances.
I thought the media had what they wanted. Rodriguez’s career would be tainted, but the end all would be that we move on and get back to 2009 and onward.
The media, led by Jayson Stark of ESPN, unleashed a vindictive attack on A-Rod accusing him of “crimes against the sport” and alleging that he ruined baseball. As Stark wrote, “So weep not for what A-rod has done to himself. Weep what he has done for the sport.”
Give me a break!
Why the fury? Why the anger? Said accused admitted crime accused of and faced his penalty—a lifetime of question regarding his legacy and public humiliation. Is that not what we wanted when this story first broke?
Apparently not. What Stark and others want to know is how were the steroids taken (injected or oral), what dates were they taken, what was the frequency, who administered them, where did they get them, how did they get them into the States, how much did they cost, what were the exact effects, and so on and so on and so on.
If this was an investigation led by Congress, I would be in favor of hearing the details. However, this is anything but that.
The hope was for Rodriguez to admit to his wrongdoing and apologize. It would then be up for the public to decide if they wanted to forgive him or not.
Nowhere was it mentioned that he has to give out all the details because the details do not matter. The guy cheated; simple as that. He took an illegal substance. The why and the how don’t matter.
(On a sidenote that I won’t divulge too much into until a later time, Stark and the rest of the baseball analysts are paid to follow everything there is about the sport.
It really tells me a lot about how intuitive they are if they could not figure out that steroids were the root of the homerun boom when McGwire and Sosa were knocking balls out of the park like it was nobody’s business.
They are guilty of protecting the sport that they cover by not bringing the cheating to the forefront when it was actually happening because at the time, it was helping the ratings that suffered due to the lockout.)
If someone admits to armed robbery, it makes no difference if his gun was black or gray. He used a gun to rob a store—that is all that matters. The little details are not of significance—especially if the accused is not trying to defend himself.
Responsibility of Journalists
After Stark unleashed on Rodriguez, the rest of the posse that is the sports media followed suit. Stephen A. Smith rips A-rod in his latest column for not coming out about his steroid use on his own.
Maybe it’s just me and the rest of the world has suddenly become morally correct and follow the WWJD mentality, but if I did something wrong and got away with it—knowing the consequences—I highly, highly doubt I would volunteer and turn myself in.
What’s in it for me? If I get away with cheating, then I got away. The whole point of cheating is to get extra help on something and succeed because of it. If you’re going to turn yourself in for cheating before getting caught, then you shouldn’t have cheated in the first place!
I was in 9th grade and an honor student and guess what? I cheated on a math quiz once. I got an A. I probably would have gotten a B otherwise.
Now if I had gone to the teacher afterwards and said, Ms. Burleson, I cheated on this test, she wouldn’t give me a pat on the back and say, “Okay Shaun, we’ll give you a makeup quiz after school because you’re a good person.”
I would get an F and have to deal with my parents and a damaged final grade. So I didn’t admit to cheating. Shoot me.
To call Rodriguez names for not coming out about his cheating on his own is not only an unrealistic expectation by Smith, but extremely hypocritical.
I would love to have Stephen A. Smith look me, or anyone in the eye, and admit that he never did anything wrong for which he got an unfair advantage that he otherwise would not have had. If he can do that, with a clear conscience, then more power to him. I, however, have a strong feeling that he wouldn’t be able to.
Which leads me to the root of my annoyance. It’s not about Rodriguez taking steroids. I don’t care one way or the other. It’s not about the homerun record. It’s not about me liking the New York Yankees.
It’s about what’s right and wrong in journalism. If you want to shred someone in your article based on their wrongdoings in the sport, by all means, do it. But be fair and be just.
It may not be a requirement in today’s age of continuous media reporting, but it is certainly a responsibility that should not be taken lightly, no matter how unlikeable the character being prosecuted may be.