LONGSHOTS: Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
by Dave Long
Ethics, cheating and stretching the rules are in the news these days. From Barry Bonds and allegations of steroid use to last weekís Videogate (and maybe worse on the horizon) the subject of cheating has been with us all summer. And even though itís been treated that way by the 24/7 news cycle itís nothing new. You have heard of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, right?
In the last decade cheating scandals have hit baseball, football, college sports, NASCAR and even Little League baseball. And that doesnít take into account betting scandals hitting the NBA and hockey which brought the wife of icon of icons Wayne Gretzky briefly into the spotlight. Nefarious activity to get a ďcompetitive edgeĒ or steal the outcome has been going on in varying degrees for a long time. But today it seems like an avalanche of activity that the average fan just canít get away from.
What has been most interesting about it all is fan nationís interpretation of what is right and wrong and the media slant in covering the same. As you might expect, the more lenient interpretations come close to home. All you had to do was look at the euphoric reaction Bonds got when he broke Hank Aaronís home run mark. Around the rest of the country it was decidedly different and in the media it was just the opposite. In New England, where their team will most likely lose a first-round pick over the Patriotsí Videogate mess, it was similar. In a Boston Globe pool 42 percent said the penalty was too harsh. In a similar one on ESPNís Web site just 17 percent of the national response thought that. A little over 18 percent in the Globe poll said it was too lenient. At ESPN, 60 percent said it was too lenient. While predictable, itís an interesting swing, donít you think?
It was the same thing with Rodney Harrison and HGH. People have been killing Bonds on talk radio for years. Yet where was the outcry when Harrison admitted to using? There was none because heís their guy. Itís like the old line that you hate Pete Rose if heís on the other team, but if he was on yours youíd love him. And it would be the same for a huge group of Boston villains from Peyton Manning to World B. Free. Well maybe, not World B., but it wouldíve for even Andrew Toney and Wilt if they wore green. Then thereís Johnny Damon, who was loved until he left. Now heís hated. Why, because heís our guy.
You think it only happens in sports. Consider a recent front-page editorial in the UL by publisher Joe McQuaid, when Bill Clinton accompanied Hillary here in July. He wrote, ďher husband disgraced the office she seeks. If she hopes to win it, she needs to do it by herself.Ē I donít disagree about the disgrace the President brought on himself amid the Ken Starr witch hunt that started with Whitewater and $50 million later wound up catching an idiotic guy messing around with an intern in the Oval Office. But around the same time Joe was hosting possible presidential contender Newt Gingrich at the UL. A former Speaker of the House supported by the family values right, who was having an affair outside his marriage at EXACTLY the same time the House was investigating Mr. Clintonís abhorrent shenanigans. But we havenít seen any similar editorials questioning Newtís character, nor will we, Iíll bet, if he joins the presidential race. Why? Because he plays for Joeís conservative team where infidelity and hypocrisy apparently arenít character flaws unless youíre a Democrat. And it happens in a similar fashion on the other side of the aisle too.
Which brings me to how the media went after Bill Belichick with such zeal. STOP THE PRESSES Ron Borges jumped on someone. A lot of it was payback for how they feel heís made their job difficult, in the way Bonds was paid back for his arrogance and Jim Rice loses Hall of Fame votes for his snarling way back when. The media has bias on most things and it makes its way into the discourse, which shades stories in certain ways ó not that itís always bad. But it happens to all of us.
Iíve got my own issue regarding a personal relationship with someone in the news. Bill Haubrich, the athletic director at Concord High School who abruptly resigned in early August amid allegations of inappropriate behavior, is a very good friend of mine. We have known each other since college, where we were captains on the basketball team. And while we donít see each other all that much, I know what kind of person he is. As a result Iíve been wrestling with what to write about this story, which I probably would not have if I didnít know him. But I havenít quite found the right balance between putting the relationship aside, and using the much better understanding I have of him to paint a better picture, than Iíll ever have in writing about finger-pointing parents who blame coaches even when their kids are clearly in the wrong.
Be that as it may, hereís my take on all this. Many people bend the rules and have for years. Stealing signs in sports, despite the hysterical rantings of some, is not cheating. In fact an ability to do it is a positive thing on a baseball coachís rťsumť. If they had video equipment, I could definitely see the ultimate rule-bender Red Auerbach involved in a controversy like this. And when he had the heat turned up in the visitorsí locker room and not the Celticsí, that was cheating.
If the allegations are true about Haubrich he should pay the price for his breach of trust in what seems like such a stupid act by a good and decent man. I can see why the parents of the student in question may not share my view. But messing up your life by losing a profession of 30 years, his livelihood and who knows what else seems pretty steep, so back off the lawsuits, unless there is more to the story we donít know about.
Belichick finally made a big mistake. He crossed the line and broke the rules. And while the penalty may seem steep, at a time of Pac Man Jones, Michael Vick and recurring offenses in Cincinnati the commissioner needed to make a statement about right and wrong for everybody. So, itís fair. As for the yahoos who think itís not harsh enough, Iíll bet most are just jealous, or love seeing someone fall hard.
And, as for Joe McQuaid, who I like and respect, and his view on Bill and Newt: sorry, infidelity is infidelity and character is character. If you had the real convictions on this one that everyone in politics and journalists yap so much about, youíd call a spade a spade regardless of party.
Dave Long hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM-Nashua.