No Press Allowed
May 27, 2011
Sportswriters are nothing more than gossip columnists. OK, let me
back up a little bit.
I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about the
steroids issue in baseball. I know, it's kinda tired but it's
still a topic that hasn't fully been waded through. Not even
close. But I digress.. what inspired the discussion was a column
by Ken Rosenthal.
Basically he's saying it's too late to do anything about it so we
should just drop it.
Here's my problem with his argument. First of all, when it first
became obvious that steroids were influencing both the outcomes and the
records, the so-called "sports reporters" should have started doing
some serious investgating. Rosenthal posits that had he asked his
editor to look into the issue, his editor would have replied with a
very specific query: "who?" But he's offering a false choice
only one possibility.
Another possibility is that the editor might have said, "go ahead,
it and if you come up with names, all the better." At worst Rosenthal
have written a fluff piece that could have sparked the discussion about
how strength training has changed
the game. But he didn't even bother to ask, to actually find out what
his superiors would say. I don't know but if I was an editor-in-chief
and someone asked me if they could investigate a story as to why all
the records are suddenly falling in a particular sport, I would
probably give him some latitude to see what he could find.
and a host of others who sat in their chairs in the pressbox did
absolutely no investigation into what steroids do, the varieties
available, the techniques by which they are used, nothing. So
let's first be honest here: Rosenthal and all the sportswriters who are
wringing their hands now about the steroids issue weren't naive; they
ignorant. They write stories all the time about guys changing
bats, changing their mechanics, even changing their batting gloves yet
did nothing for two decades when players were showing up to camp with
20 pounds of added muscle and trying to hide it by wearing baggy
jerseys. Ken speaks for them all in wanting it both ways - he
forgiveness for not doing his job before and wants us to believe it
wouldn't be fair for him to start doing it now.
Complicating the issue is that any time anyone attempts to do any
actual investigation they get branded as leading a 'witch hunt'.
me if I'm wrong here but the job of a reporter is to report that which
is newsworthy. Sometimes, as with corporate malfeasance and political
intrigue, that process requires investigation. Not so in sports,
Imagine what the world would be like had Woodward and Bernstein taken
the Rosenthal approach.
Rosenthal: "Mr. President, did you guys do anything illegal?"
Rosenthal: "OK thanks. I guess I'll write a column about
Or if he was reporting about cigarettes:
Rosenthal: "Sir, are there any deleterious health effects from smoking
Tobacco Exec: "No"
Rosenthal: "OK, well, I guess I'll go write a column about dirt
Maybe I am being too hard on him. Maybe steroids in sports are
too complicated an issue to investigate. Maybe not. Sports,
as with all human endeavors, are constantly evolving and the rules are
always behind the developments. That said, something that is not
explicitly illegal by the rules can still be wrong. For all those
who feel this "witch hunt" over steroids is too much, how do you feel
about Wall Street
bankers/brokerage execs? Techincally, those guys did nothing
wrong. They played within the rules and with the exception of a
few small fish who were obviously breaking other laws regarding
predatory lending, nothing will happen to them in a courtroom.
They literally made billions of dollars, destroyed the economy, got
bailed out by you and me and then gave themselves millions in bonuses
from the bailout money. And technically, everything they did was
legal. The worst they could be accused of is being stupid or
greedy or both, but legally they did nothing wrong. Yet by
almost any moral standard what they did - the chaos, discontent,
heartache and financial hardship they brought down on the vast majority
of the populace - was reprehensible. So how is that substantially
different than what steroid users did? Sure, the details of the
circumstances are bit different but both parties went well outside the
spirit of the rules yet technically were within the letter of the law,
for the purpose of excessive financial and reputational gain with no
regard as to the consequences for everyone else. What
consequences have there been from the steroid scandal? How about
almost no one ever trusting another amazing performance as being
naturally gained? How about numerous clean players potentially
losing their jobs (and livelyhoods) because they were out-performed by
players on the juice?
What is missing here, as was missing when Bush involved the US in a war
in Iraq, was the press doing their job, investigating whether the story
they were being told was the truth, or even remotely close ot it.
The job of the press is to inform the people and sometimes that
requires asking tough questions or sneaking around to find out the real
answers. People who work in the media who don't investigate
stories, who don't add any actual information to the collective
discussion, those people are called gossip columnists. So how are
sportswriters like Ken Rosethal any different? Sure, they'll tell
you which teams are interested in which players at the trade deadline
or in the off-season, but how is that substantially different than
People Magazine publishing a picture of a starlet with some guy with a
caption asking whether they have hooked up or not? Until he and
the others start doing their jobs - reporting on the real issues in
baseball by actually investgating them - they are nothing more than
modern-day Hedda Hoppers and Louella Parsons. My reference too
retro? Then how about the sports equivalent of TMZ and Perez
Hilton? See there... a little investigating isn't so hard.