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 by considering only one possibility. Another possibility is that the editor might have said, "go ahead, investigate it and if you come up with names, all the better." At worst Rosenthal could 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.  Instead, Rosenthal 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 were willfully ignorant.  They write stories all the time about guys changing their 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 wants 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'. Correct 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, apparently.

Imagine what the world would be like had Woodward and Bernstein taken the Rosenthal approach.

Rosenthal: "Mr. President, did you guys do anything illegal?"
Nixon: "No"
Rosenthal: "OK thanks.  I guess I'll write a column about paperweights instead."

Or if he was reporting about cigarettes:

Rosenthal: "Sir, are there any deleterious health effects from smoking cigarettes?"
Tobacco Exec: "No"
Rosenthal: "OK, well, I guess I'll go write a column about dirt instead."

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.