Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Whispering Forgiveness

I haven’t spoken much about the steroid scandal in the seven years of this blog's existence. There’s a reason for that. And even if you’re as sick of the topic as I am, I hope you’ll grant me this day of indulgence.

You see, I want to start something, and today seems like as good a day as any.

The reason you haven’t heard any steroidal musings is because when news has broken, there have already been plenty of voices. Some have been indignant, some leering, some analytical, but they’ve been there, and they’ve been crowded, looking for ears.

That’s the temptation when looking over a mob. You look upon all those wonderful ears, sense the power, and search for the lever. But, of course, when the mob is also talking, that’s also the hardest time to be heard. Especially when you’re whispering.

So now, while the mob is silent, let’s whisper a while. Let’s whisper of forgiveness.

I’ll start by asking for some.

I have privately referred to efforts that ferret out steroid users as a witch hunt, which is as inflammatory a phrase as anything the mob has uttered. I was wrong. After some reflection, I don’t believe that, or at least not in the worst sense of the phrase. The tragedy of the Salem witch trials or McCarthy hearings wasn’t the fervor, it was that so many innocent people were accused, tried and punished. That is the tipping point of a witch hunt – when the zeal drives the mob from prosecuting the guilty to prosecuting the innocent.

So far, in the steroid scandal, that doesn’t appear to have happened, though I suppose Mark McGwire might argue that it has. It doesn’t appear that anyone will bother to prove that he was guilty, but that hasn’t stopped Hall-of-Fame voters from convicting and punishing him. But for the most part, the confessions surrounding steroid abuse seem to be genuine and not coerced. The various steroid investigations don’t appear to be a true witch hunt.

That doesn’t mean some of the uglier ingredients aren’t there. We can start with a mob fueled by envy. Like fans who view ballplayers as overpaid prima donnas. Or media members who suffer for a half-baked quote on a daily basis. Even ex-ballplayers who were born too early to share in this generation's riches.

The strongest indicator for the level of outrage directed at each ballplayer has been the height of their achievement before their confessions. Our volume, our venom and our demand for the goriest of details is in direct correlation with his fame. The bigger they are, the louder they fall.

We can add territorial desire. The commissioner’s office hasn’t been afraid to blame the players union for this entire fiasco. After all, that next Collective Bargaining Agreement is coming up in 2012. There’s no better time to start gathering public opinion real estate than right now.

And finally, there is a symbol of righteousness that justifies all kinds of ugliness, whether it’s a cross, or a flag, or the number 62. We attach ourselves to these symbols, and find ourselves conceding the moral high ground to whoever raises it high in the air. What’s more, it’s how we get the intelligentsia to buy into the discussion, prolonging the issue.

The answer to all of these is the same: forgiveness. Forgive the guilty for their weakness or greed. Forgive the innocent for turning a blind eye. Forgive the caretakers for their ignorance. Forgive the angry for their disillusioned rage.

And we can save a healthy dose of that forgiveness for ourselves, too. The steroid era is a market-driven phenomenon. We’re the ones who demanded more night games, and then looked the other way while ballplayers chomped down greenies, which are as illegal as any steroid. We’re the ones who tuned in to watch the home run races. We’re the ones demanding our team pay top dollar for free agents.

We’re also the ones approving grand juries. Tuning into congressional hearings. Relishing leaked confidential test results. And marching along with the mob, participating in the zeitgeist.

But we’re also the ones who can just as easily start forgiving. Just like we forgave baseball its labor battles, its segregation, and its gambling habit. We can do so without requiring public self-immolation. And we can do so softly, privately, to members of the mob, both when they’re yelling and when they are silent.

I’ll start. I haven’t spoken much about the steroid scandal in the seven years of this blog’s existence. Today seems like as good a day as any to start whispering forgiveness.

9 comments:

thrylos98 said...

Amen

deadwood twins fan said...

I still feel for players who didn't use and never made the majors because someone who did use beat them out of a job. They have some right to be outraged.

John said...

I still feel for players who didn't use and never made the majors because someone who did use beat them out of a job. They have some right to be outraged.

I hear you. But it's also yet one more example of where the level of our outrage is misdirected. Our outrage isn't directed at the 24th guy on the roster that took someone eles's job. It's at ARod and McGwire and Clemens. So is it justice driving this outrage, or something uglier?

Lance said...

Yeah - I'm with you - . . . sorta. You see, the misdirected anger IMHO SHOULD be redirected to the owners, and in part MLB itself. If you are going to play 162 games in a season, and then drag out these silly playoff formats,with their TV-driven BS, then you are going to have competitors striving for that "edge", no matter what rules are enacted. Bottom line is, you cannot play competitively 27 out of 30 days, and not expect the body to break down. IF it does, then it follows that those who are making these salaries and are the cpompetitors, to do everything (should I say anything?) that they can to get back in teh game, and show that they are worth $22.5 mil a year. (ManRam, that's insane!) That's just the way it is.

Cheers

Irving

Nick N. said...

Well put. Excellent article.

Anonymous said...

I actually admire, and mostly agree with, everything you wrote. But let me take up the voice of the mob and offer a counterargument:

In fact we're all about forgiveness. Look around you: our cultural landscape is littered with heroes turned villains turned redemption stories. Forgiving makes us feel good about ourselves. But not only that. The power to forgive is a power I hold over another. As such that power is empowering. Such empowerment makes forgiveness an attractive option.

But whether motivated by a christian charity or an empowering, poorly concealed self-righteousness, our forgiveness is not unconditional. Like God Almighty himself, we require one thing before forgiveness is extended: that the transgressor repent for his or her transgression.

Mark McGuire's non-denial denials at that congressional hearings weren't repentant gestures. Barry Bonds' shifting alibis over the years, his equivocations to this day, weren't and aren't repentant gestures. Even A-Rod's recent "confession" had the stink of someone who viewed himself as much a victim as a transgressor. Andy Pettite and Jason Giambi we can forgive, and have mostly forgiven, because they issued early, seemingly heartfelt apologies. As for the steroid-abusing 24th man, we've not overlooked him. Most of us demand from them the same mea culpa we're asking their high profile peers for. But if we're not as adamant in our demands for those mea culpas, if we insist on shining our spotlight on their high profile peers ... well, that is exactly as it should be. McGuire and Bonds and A-Rod have had a more powerfully negative effect on the game, and on the records that are inextricably bound to a deep appreciation of the history of the game, than have the 24th men whose numbers pale in comparison. As such, these high profile athletes have more to answer for. And more to repent for. Let them demonstrate a genuine regret and they'll find that forgiveness is swift in coming.

Forgiveness? Yes. Forgiveness before repentance? Absolutely not.

David Wintheiser said...

Forgiveness? Yes. Forgiveness before repentance? Absolutely not.

What, in your world, constitutes repentance?

In my mind, the guys to admire are the guys who aren't admitting that they did anything really wrong -- they're the ones who made the decision with their eyes open, and if you think of them as 'arrogant' because they won't kowtow to public opinion and debase themselves at the altar of sanctified baseball belief, then that just means that they're the same guys who were arrogant enough to believe that they could make a living as baseball players instead of deciding that a career in stockbroking would be 'safer'. Guys like McGwire and Rodriguez are who they are, and it's refreshing not to see them bow and scrape, as if somehow they were now less valuable as people just because they took something they felt was necessary to their lives.

(Clemens's situation, in my mind, is fundamentally different -- Clemens's crime isn't that he took steroids, but that he so needs to maintain his reputation as a hard-nosed but clean competitor that he's dragging down others around him, particularly those without the ability to speak up for themselves. Even Barry Bonds never went so far as to perjure himself while denigrating his personal trainer, whose only real crime himself was doing what was asked of him.)

Perhaps you're thinking of Josh Hamilton?

The most ludicrous story I can remember from the 2008 season was the lionization of Josh Hamilton for 'bouncing back' from a life of drugs and dissipation. The adulation of Hamilton became so ridiculous that he got far more press for losing the All-Star Home Run Derby than the guy who won it, a guy who, I'll point out, is every bit the 'model citizen' that Hamilton is alleged to be these days.

(My prediction: before he turns 40, Hamilton will be out of baseball and in the papers on a major drug charge. Why? Because he's done it before; once he's out of baseball and has nothing else to lose, why wouldn't he return to the lifestyle he had prior to baseball?)

Ah, but Hamilton is saying all the right things. OK, go with that if you want to. All that means is that you're accepting enough so that you'd rather hear a comforting lie than an uncomfortable truth.

Anonymous said...

In my mind, the guys to admire are the guys who aren't admitting that they did anything really wrong -- they're the ones who made the decision with their eyes open, and if you think of them as 'arrogant' because they won't kowtow to public opinion and debase themselves at the altar of sanctified baseball belief, then that just means that they're the same guys who were arrogant enough to believe that they could make a living as baseball players instead of deciding that a career in stockbroking would be 'safer'. Guys like McGwire and Rodriguez are who they are, and it's refreshing not to see them bow and scrape, as if somehow they were now less valuable as people just because they took something they felt was necessary to their lives.

Quite possibly the least insightful take on the situation in the history of man.

They made the decision to cheat 'with their eyes open' but should be admired now because they won't own up to it? If they're these admirable renegades who made the decision, aren't ashamed of it, and would do it again, shouldn't they be proclaiming that from the highest hills?

Steroids were 'necesary to their lives?' Good god, man. Insulin is 'necessary' to the lives of diabetics. Steroid use to improve baseball performance isn't 'necessary' to ANYone, you dolt.

Bond's personal trainer's 'only crime was doing what was asked of him?' Now that's rich. I guess the only crime of the drug dealers pushing amphetamines on junior high students is 'doing what's asked of them' too, right?

HE WAS DEALING IN ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES...FOR PROFIT.

Sheesh.

John said...

But whether motivated by a christian charity or an empowering, poorly concealed self-righteousness, our forgiveness is not unconditional. Like God Almighty himself, we require one thing before forgiveness is extended: that the transgressor repent for his or her transgression.

I wrestled with this quite a bit the night I published this, but my recollections don't support the correlation between consfession and level of outrage.

I don't remember Giambi's apology being any more heartfelt than McGwire's evasion. As I recall, Giambi said he apologized - but wouldn't say what he was apologizing for. And Petitte's apology path matched ARod's - he was caught, talked about overcoming something, gave details. I don't see a substantial difference.

That's one of the reason's I added the line about self-immolation near the end. We are demanding more self-flaggelation from folks the more we generally disliked them before they were accused. Again, I don't think it's piety driving this. It's something uglier than that.