A few things I wanted to touch on this week. Do to overindulgence in Mountain Dew High Energy drink, I don’t think I can focus on one topic for an entire column.
First off, by the time you read this, the Edmonton Oilers might be beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals, so you will most likely be seeing me on the six o’ clock news wandering aimlessly on the street, garments rent, dressed in sackcloth, and with dust on my head. (But I won‘t be wearing socks with my sandals, lest I make a spectacle of myself.)
The point? And yes—I have one.
The NHL enjoyed a terrific rebound, considering that they lost an entire season to a lockout. Revenues and attendance are much higher than expected. Television ratings are a pleasant surprise, and there was enough money generated this year to give the salary cap a nice boost for the 2006-07 season.
In other words, despite the idiocy of cancelling an entire year’s worth of hockey, the game doesn’t seem to have suffered a lot of fallout, once again proving my unerring ability at being Nostradumbass. Let’s check out my prediction from March 2005 on what was going to happen with the National Hockey League:
They’re going to see how difficult it is in minor markets to win fans back. They’re going to see how difficult it is to win back lost sponsors and deal with a significantly shrunken revenue pie.
Chances are good they’ll see how contraction works at the major league level …
I can’t see NHL fans coming back in places like Phoenix, Nashville, Miami, Carolina, [italics mine] and Atlanta after they‘ve become used to spending their entertainment dollar elsewhere.
Shoot, I may have well predicted that David Samson would resign from the Marlins, sign with the Chicago Bulls and lead them to six NBA championships, and then do a movie with Daffy Duck, called “[I Don’t Take Up Much] Space Jam.”
One can only hope that Bud Selig doesn’t take a cue from this. The NHL has not nearly tested the patience of its fans the way MLB has. Right now the fallout from the whole steroids scandal has got a lot of folks on edge, and the last thing baseball needs is more negative publicity.
Speaking of performance-enhancing drugs …
To begin with, I’m not real shocked by the revelations of HGH use among players; I’ve always maintained that PEDs are in the game to stay. I’m also not shocked about how ineptly MLB has handled l’affaire Grimsley. As of right now, Jason Grimsley is no longer in baseball, having been granted his release by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Yet Selig has issued him a 50-day suspension, most likely to aid the Snakes attempt to withhold the balance of Grimsley’s contract. The union will likely file a grievance to overturn the D-Backs’ non-payment.
Without getting into the merits of the Grimsley case, this is a huge—yet predictable—blunder by MLB. Right now George Mitchell is conducting an investigation into steroid use in the game since testing was first instituted. As we know, so are the feds. Both want players to step up and tell what they know, however Grimsley’s situation demonstrates the consequences of doing so. Is there any reason for players to be forthcoming now? With talk going around that the positive drug tests during the investigative phase of MLB’s new policy could become public despite earlier promises, is there any reason for the players to trust anything the owners have to say?
Of course, this is right before a new collective bargaining agreement is to be negotiated.
I know these guys are hardly candidates for MENSA, but c’mon already. They cannot possibly be this dumb.
This whole affair has brought the contradictions that are human nature into sharp focus. From the time we’re small, we learn one lesson: don’t tell. When we’re kids, we run the risk of being called a tattle-tale; when we get older, we use words like “snitch” and “rat.” However, when a scandal breaks, everybody has the same refrain: “How could something like this have happened? Why didn’t somebody say something was wrong?” When our loyalties are to those who have broken the rules rather than the people who follow those same laws and rules (and the laws and rules themselves)—these things happen.
Everybody wants to get this performance-enhancing drug mess out of baseball, but nobody wants to get their hands dirty. Many want somebody to spill the beans on Barry Bonds, but at the same time we will view that person negatively.
It’s the classic no-win situation: keep silent and you’re guilty of a cover-up; blow the whistle and you’re a snitch. Then we have the gall to scratch our collective heads and wonder, “How could this have gone on so long?” Our whole lives we’re conditioned to keep our mouths shut—don’t ask and don’t tell—but when this conditioning creates a huge mess or scandal, we vociferously criticize those who follow the credo they’ve been taught almost from infancy. When somebody violates that creed and brings the light of day into a dirty corner, they get buried in our vitriol, and we smack them upside the head and remind them of the importance of not being a rat.
We should never lose sight of the fact that between the money and support we’ve given MLB despite our suspicions of cheating, coupled with what we’ve taught those within the sport about the virtue of looking the other way and keeping silent when they see wrongdoing, that we have to shoulder our share of responsibility for the steroid scandal. We lose our moral right to criticize when people follow the rules that we created while we castigate those who do not.
We cannot have it both ways.
We follow this unwritten rule—not out of a sense of nobility or honor, because there is no nobility and honor in helping the guilty keep justice at bay, but because we feel it is in our own best interests to do so. We do this because (i) we don’t want to get involved; (ii) we don’t wish to be viewed negatively as a “snitch” or “rat”; (iii) we don’t wish to risk the relationship we have with the guilty party; and (iv) we fear reprisals.
In other words, it’s the path of least resistance. I doubt there are many former altar boys who view those whose silence allowed terrible things to happen to them as particularly noble or honorable.
The only times we violate this unwritten rule is when it is in our best interests to do so, a la Jason Grimsley.
I’m not saying Grimsely should be made out as a hero, but he’s not a villain either. As Pogo once opined: “I have seen the enemy and he is us.”
Finally, as an awe-inspiring capstone to this over stimulated stream-of-consciousness monologue, I thought I’d combine the NHL, MLB and performance-enhancing drugs as a final point: Dick Pound has criticized the NHL’s drug testing policy.
I’m getting really sick [and tired—hi mom!] of this yo-yo. It’s easy for him to get all high and mighty over professional sports’ drug policies when he doesn’t have to negotiate with a union over testing Olympic athletes. Pound is obviously myopic enough to be major league baseball’s next commissioner, so let’s have a show of hands on who’d like to see him hammer out a collective bargaining agreement with Don Fehr and Gene Orza across the bargaining table. While we’re at it, we’ll let Selig take over the World Anti-Doping Agency (his dream job—world class athletes play for free and do what they’re told, or else!) and hurl brickbats at the man whose name is so easily made fun of, that even I won’t do it out of sympathy.