Thursday, October 26, 2006

We Care, Already!

Alright, it's time for me to get on my box (taking my box out of the closet, blowing the dust off, placing it in the middle of the room and climbing up).

Fans care about players cheating. Pure and simple. We do. That's a message for you in the media that don't think we care (led by Stephen Brunt in Canada, who loves to go on Bob McCown's show and tell everyone this. Note: I love Stephen Brunt and think he's one of the better sportswriters: he just happens to be on the wrong side of this issue). Every fan I've ever spoken to wants athletes to be clean of illegal substances. We care about stats and their integrity. We care about athletes and their health. We care about the rule book and following it.

It's time to turn the tide of propaganda from the school of thought that teaches that fans don't care as long as they don't know. The consequences of this reversal is that reporters would have to work harder to uncover the facts. They would have to display initiative beyond asking questions like: "What do you think was the turning point of the game?" or "How do you feel after such a big win?". It means journalists will have to develop more cojones when confronting athletes, instead of deferring to them with such reverence.

I've never been in a major sports locker room so I don't know what kind of questions are asked, and if athletes really are so good at spin that it's so difficult to get insightful answers. The only time an athlete will answer tough questions seems to be when a pack mentality forms with members of the press, as if strength in numbers will assure them that they can't all get their press passes revoked. Maybe this is true, but it would appear to me that it's simply a matter of group courage and individual cowardice.

For example, will Tom Verducci run into trouble in the Tigers locker room after writing such an accusatory column about the Kenny Rogers pine tar incident? Something tells me he might get a frostier welcome, but that he'll get just as much access. Does a reporter have to wait until he pays his dues and acquires a pedigree like Verducci has until he can work up the courage to really go in depth with less than rosy issues? Maybe, but if that's the case we're in trouble. If I were a Tigers fan, I'd be embarrassed that one of my players was caught cheating. If it was a Senators player, I'd want him suspended. Am I so unique? Yeah, right.

Sports long ago stopped being a fairy-tale land to which people travelled in order to admire the giants and myth-like figures. That veil was lifted decades ago. What we want is as even a playing field as possible, where athletic ability comes from hard work, talent and genetics, not a syringe or a bottle with green pills. We want regulation sticks and goalie equipment in hockey, balls that haven't been tampered with in baseball and the letter of the law enforced as it is written.

In short, we want fairness and a world to which we can point and say to our kids: "See that? He cheated and got punished. Don't cheat." (getting off my box and placing it neatly back in the closet)


Anonymous said...

I totally agree.

Saying fans don't care about cheating is akin to stating the integrity of the game doesn't matter. The single common element in all of sports is that these athletes are human beings, and as such, we can relate to them. When they do extraordinary things, we live vicariously through them as human beings ourselves. We can picture ourselves making that deke, smacking that homer into the top deck, or making that incredible one-handed catch. We even go so far as buy jerseys with other peoples' names on them.

However, once these athletes start doing things that are ethically against that whole principle of the game, we have a psychological break with that individual, and therefore can't connect so much with him. What's worse, the more players do it, the harder it is to be a fan. Will Shawn Merriman still be a great player after his ban? Of course, but I know I won't be able to look at him the same way.

We care, and it matters.

As for journalists just towing the company line for the sports, I think the biggest example of that is the Balco investigation. Not for what it uncovered, but for how groundbreaking it was that a journalist out there actually did some investigations, built up a solid case to back his argument, and published it. This shouldn't be such a huge deal - isn't that what journalism is supposed to be?? But in this day and age of media manipulation and corporate mouthpieces pushing the bosses' political agendas, we can't be surprised that the trend has bled into sports as well.

Ottawa Sports Guy said...

Nicely said.

As for the Balco scandal, there were two reporters who wrote Game of Shadows: Mike Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Credit also goes to the San Francisco Chronicle's editors, who gave the pair the green light to pursue the story.

It's a sad state of affairs when they're the two who will be going to jail over all of this, to make up for the government investigators who are now removing egg off their faces.