September 20, 2007

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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.


9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders

9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat