Monthly Archives: January 2013

Justin Upton and baseball’s subtle racial code.

I was in the Poconos with some friends last weekend when the AFC Championship Game came on. I don’t care much for football these days, but when I did care about it I always enjoyed watching the Patriots play (except if they were playing the Giants) because I found Bill Belichick’s meticulous gameplans fascinating. There are very few coaches I can recall who have gotten so much production out of other teams’ castaways. So it was surprising to me when I realized that literally all of my friends were rooting for the Baltimore Ravens. It’s an interesting cultural dichotomy – a team of relative underdogs have managed to become the most hated team in football. I had to ask: why is everyone rooting for the Ravens? One of my friends responded, “I feel like the Patriots are a white team.”

I had never thought of it this way until now, but the Patriots are, sort of, a collective embodiment of the sportswriter’s wet dream: they’re smart, they make hustle plays, they have undersized players who play well beyond their physical skillset. The Patriots aren’t a white team in terms of complexion – like any other NFL team, they roster a large number, if not a majority of, black players – they’re a white team because of the narrative which surrounds them. Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker will never be confused for Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson, but Bill Belichick utilizes them in such a way that he’s optimized their production to the point where they aren’t just valuable players, but – in Welker’s case – legitimate stars. The way we talk about our modern athletes is through a sort of racial code of adjectives and terms. The Patriots are a white team because we define them as “smart” or “professional,” we say Tom Brady has “intangibles,” or we define Danny Woodhead as “gritty.” Meanwhile we define Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson as “freakishly athletic” or “talented.” These aren’t terms which are used solely in football, though, they’re pervasive throughout the entire sporting world.

During the week of August 11-17, 2011, Adam Felder and Seth Amitin coded every Major League Baseball broadcast (over 200 games) to document how broadcasters would describe players of different races and nationalities. What they had discovered was that:

[F]oreign-born players—the vast majority of whom are Latino—are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to receiving praise for intangibles. Latino players are almost 13 percent less likely to be praised for intangibles than their white counterparts. Announcers are nearly 14 percent more likely to praise a US/Canadian-born player for intangibles than they are their international counterparts.

While there is no difference between race or nationality when it comes to performance-based descriptions, effort-based and character-based descriptions make a big difference. Players born in the US or Canada are 10 percent more likely to be praised for their effort. White players are 10 percent more likely to be praised for their character.

Indeed, it is not so much that announcers are unwilling to praise non-white players, but the terminology they use in so doing falls into a set of pre-defined “code words.” For example, if a player is described as being a “guy next door,” or “regular guy” there is a greater than 80 percent chance that player is white. If a player is described as “impatient” or “over-aggressive,” there is a greater than 50 percent chance that player is not white. This echoes the findings of similar research in the field of print sports journalism.

We’ve created narratives around our athletes based on their skin color and/or nationality, which have changed our perceptions of them. We classify white players as “hard workers” and we appropriate them with intangible qualities, while non-white players are “gifted” or “naturally talented.” The truth is, though, that anybody who makes it to the highest level of their sport has worked their ass off to get there, and worked even harder to stay. Which is why it is, frankly, lazy when sportswriters define black and Latino ballplayers as “lazy” or some other unflattering description. Every player doesn’t sprint down to first base on every weakly hit groundball, and yet it seems as if it is consistently blacks and Latinos who are derided for their “lack of hustle.”

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Lance Armstrong is a scumbag.

Sure, I admit, I’m easily annoyed, and I am ridiculously cynical, but Lance Armstrong is just the latest in a stretch of narcissistic dickbags that have emerged from the world of sports in the last decade or so; he’s certainly not the first, and he will, most assuredly, not be the last. So why the fuck do we care? Why the fuck does anybody give a shit about Lance Armstrong? What part of his story do we not understand that we think will somehow be revealed by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist that useless, opportunistic cunt, Oprah?

There’s been a bullshit narrative driven by some parts of our media that whatever wrongs Lance Armstrong may have committed – taking PEDs, lying about taking PEDS – they should not overshadow the work he’s done fighting cancer. (For the record: I could care less that Armstrong was doping, it’s a non-issue in my opinion.) The problem is that Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong foundation don’t actually fight cancer – which is to say that they don’t fund cancer research. Most of their money is used for public relations, and media, and pamphlets, and merchandise and wristbands. As far as their expense reports and the foundation’s practicality are concerned, Livestrong is the fucking Kony 2012 of cancer foundations. Is this to say that the foundation doesn’t do good things? Of course not. They do provide some invaluable services for cancer survivors and their families. But it’s becoming fairly clear that Livestrong and Lance Armstrong exist in this symbiotic relationship where neither could survive without the other.

It should be mentioned that Lance Armstrong has received no money from the foundation, ever. He, the foundation, and its board – which includes Sanjay Gupta – has been adamant about that. But Bill Gifford reported for Outside Magazine:

Much of the foundation’s work ends up buffing the image of one Lance Edward Armstrong, which seems fair—after all, Livestrong wouldn’t exist without him. But Livestrong spends massively on advertising, PR, and “branding,” all of which helps preserve Armstrong’s marketability at a time when he’s under fire. Meanwhile, Armstrong has used the goodwill of his foundation to cut business deals that have enriched him personally, an ethically questionable move.

Armstrong doesn’t use the foundation as a direct source of income, but, instead, uses the positive public image it provides him as a vehicle for securing six-figure speaking gigs (it is said that he charges upwards of $200,000 per appearance) and shady deals like selling out (as opposed to the foundation’s to a commercial website for $1.2 million. (It’s worth noting that under public pressure Armstrong later gave the money to the foundation.) At the same time the foundation needs – or at least needed, since it’s now publicly distancing itself from its founder – Lance Armstrong to remain viable and relevant. The Livestrong foundation, however, was always a means to an end for him. That end, of course, was the apotheosis of Lance Armstrong.

But who, exactly, were we sanctifying? This is a man that has ruined people’s lives in order to protect his public image, and, therefore, his bank account. He’s never given a shit about anyone else but himself, and it’s silly of us to give a shit about him. So seriously, who the fuck cares?

Do you feel cheated because you were a fan and he turned out to be a fraud? Get the fuck over yourself. I’m sorry that your too-good-to-be-true story actually turned out to be too fucking good to be true.

Do you feel cheated because you donated to his foundation, which was built on lies? You only have yourself to blame. You should feel fucking dumb for donating to a shit-ass organization that doesn’t even provide money for research grants. And even then, its not like your money was lost in a Ponzi scheme, Livestrong still does provide services for cancer survivors. So shut the fuck up.

The reason why Lance Armstrong is going on this bullshit apology tour isn’t because he actually believes he did something wrong, it’s because he wants to compete in triathlons and marathons but can’t because he’s banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Again, he doesn’t give a shit about his fans, his teammates, or anybody else, only himself. This is a man hoping to restore his public image because he’s about to pay millions of dollars to the government (the U.S. Postal Service was the primary sponsor for Armstrong’s racing team) for defrauding them throughout his career. The dude needs money. That’s what this is about. He had to sell his fucking private jet and his properties for fuck’s sake. The writing’s on the goddamn wall.

Lance Armstrong is just another piece of shit our media deified until it realized he was, well, a piece of shit. This narrative of “Lance Armstrong: Philanthropist” is a complete and utter farce. This “apology,” to fucking Oprah of all people, is more of his usual self-aggrandizing bullshit. He’s just another narcissist trying to make himself feel better. (He’s also a part of, perhaps, the greatest sequence of Drudge Report links in the history of history.) The truth is, Lance Armstrong is about as fucking useless of a human being as there can be. I would rather watch an hour-long interview in which Barbara Walters and Kim Kardashian choose baby names than a sit-down interview where Armstrong and Oprah jerk each other off and try to make themselves feel important.

I get it. I mean, I wore a Livestrong bracelet in high school, too. Granted, I never actually bought the fucking thing, but I still wore one because everyone else seemed to be. I also popped the fucking collar on my polos – I did a lot of dumb shit back then. (I now support gravity.) The thing is, I don’t give a shit about Lance Armstrong or his story because I never lionized him. If I hear another media type refer to him as a “disgraced hero” or some other bullshit, I swear I’m gonna lose it. There are actual people out there fighting very real battles with cancer, and struggling to simply take care of their families. These people are heroes. Not some douchebag in a yellow jersey that rides a fucking bike.

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An obligatory post on “Django Unchained,” race, and the most important word in the history of the United States.

Note on spoilers: Anything about Django shouldn’t really be considered a “spoiler.” The basic conceit of the movie is fairly well known to the public, and I haven’t revealed anything here that you wouldn’t have heard about already. That being said, if you’d rather wait on reading anything concerning the movie until after having seen it (as I did), I can’t blame you.

Note on language: I’m not a black man. Anyone who knows me, I would hope, would know this. As such, I can understand how one would get offended by my use of the word central to this piece, but I believe it’s used responsibly, academically, and in good taste. If you still, somehow, disagree with my usage, then I’d be glad to discuss that with you privately, though there’s likely a greater chance that you need to grow up.

Right around this time in 2011, an Alabama-based publisher, NewSouth books, decided to censor parts of Mark Twain’s literary classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and replace the word “nigger,” which was used over two-hundred times within the text, with the (to their estimation) less offensive word, “slave.” The argument was that teachers were already preemptively making this substitution during in-class readings of the novel; the word “nigger,” in their minds led to uncomfortable classroom situations in which both the teachers and students were not prepared to use this pejorative, and as a result, the novel was being removed from many mandatory reading curricula throughout the country. Replacing “nigger” with “slave,” in their minds, would restore Huck Finn’s standing in early academia.

While this argument certainly has a modicum of merit (if that), it’s simply an avoidance of the uncomfortable, and sometimes painful conversations we must have in academic settings about literature and reality, about race, and about slavery. Michiko Kakutani, writing for the New York Times, said:

Haven’t we learned by now that removing books from the curriculum just deprives children of exposure to classic works of literature? Worse, it relieves teachers of the fundamental responsibility of putting such books in context — of helping students understand that “Huckleberry Finn” actually stands as a powerful indictment of slavery (with Nigger Jim its most noble character), of using its contested language as an opportunity to explore the painful complexities of race relations in this country. To censor or redact books on school reading lists is a form of denial: shutting the door on harsh historical realities — whitewashing them or pretending they do not exist.

The problem is that every now and then an instance like this occurs, and, in certain pockets of American life, we begin to discuss these concepts and constructs in a meaningful way, but just as quickly as we entered the conversation, we exit, having established no new ground on the proper ways we can talk about our nation’s very real history of racism and slavery – the Huck Finn controversy is just one example. The idea that discussing race or slavery is uncomfortable is complete and utter bullshit – it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. But it’s also a discussion worth having within the right contexts.

Central to this entire argument is that six-letter word, which in its two syllables elicits so many different feelings and emotions: nigger. We like to believe we can have responsible discussions about race in this country, but we try to do so without working to understand this term’s significance in our nation’s history, without even using the term. Take for instance these two statements:

1) It is an embarrassment to your party to play that card. This stuff about getting rid of the work requirement for welfare is dishonest, everyone’s pointed out it’s dishonest, and you are playing that little ethnic card there. You can play games and giggle about it, but the fact is your side is playing that card. You start talking about work requirements, everyone knows what game you’re playing. It’s a race card…This thing about if your name is Romney, yeah you went to prep school and you brag about it. This guy’s got an African name, he has to live with it. Look who’s going further in their life. Who was born on third base? This absurdity, making fun of the birth certificate issue…Of course he’s playing the race card, why would he bring [the birth certificate] up?

2) That really bothered me. You notice he said anger twice. He’s really trying to use racial coding and access some really deep stereotypes about the angry black man. This is part of the playbook against Obama, the ‘otherization,’ he’s not like us. I know it’s a heavy thing, I don’t say it lightly, but this is ‘niggerization.’ You are not one of us, you are like the scary black man who we’ve been trained to fear.

These are two comments made a little over one week apart, both arguing the same point: that Mitt Romney was running a racialized campaign. The first statement was made by Chris Matthews, a blowhard of a white man, who was making a valid point. The second statement – which, ostensibly, made the same points as the first – however, was made by Toure, a blowhard of a black man, author, professor, and co-host of MSNBC’s The Cycle. The only real difference in the language of the two statements was Toure’s use of the word “niggerization,” which, hilariously, made his conservative, white co-host, S.E. Cupp, apoplectic, but also was found to be offensive (by someone, presumably) and required an on-air apology from him the next day.

The point of all of this is to ask the following: if a learned black man can’t, responsibly, use the term “nigger,” or its derivatives, in an academic context (which news and journalism most certainly are), how are we ever supposed to confront race, as an issue?

The most recent cultural moment leading to a racial discourse has been the release of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, his second alternate history, revenge-fantasy in the last few years (the other being Inglourious Basterds). In it, the titular Django (played by Jamie Foxx), a freed slave, turned freelance bounty hunter, travels the antebellum south with his freer and mentor, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to free his wife, Broomhilda (a.k.a. Hildy; Kerry Washington), from slavery. The story is, at its core, a love story. It’s a story about a man willing to do unspeakable things in order to save his wife from something even worse. The rest of the movie, was, really, just noise. The thing, though, is that the noise was so powerful, so moving, and, at times, so disturbing.

At different times in the movie we witness a slave – named, ironically, after D’Artagnan from Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers by his owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who (as it is pointed out later by Dr. Schultz) didn’t realize Dumas was a black man – being torn apart by dogs, mandingo fighting, whippings and hot-boxes. We witness the subhuman treatment of slaves, and at one point see Don Johnson’s Big Daddy character struggle with teaching his slave how to treat Django (a freed man) like less than a white man, but better than a slave. We witness a group of clansman which pre-date the KKK being reduced to a joke (in one of the funniest movie scenes in a good while) because they, literally, can’t see with their masks on. But we also hear the word “nigger,” by some counts, as many as 110 times.

Part of the controversy surrounding the use of the word has to do with who wrote the script and who was saying it. Tarantino has a history of using the word “nigger,” sometimes gratuitously in movies like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and True Romance. As such, there’s always been some backlash toward his use of the word. And in each case, including in Django, it’s generally said by white actors. It’s certainly a little disorienting to see well known actors like DiCaprio and Don Johnson to use the word over, and over again, but it’s far from the first time we’ve seen it. In Blood Diamond DiCaprio called Djimon Hansou’s character a kaffir, which is simply South Africa’s version of nigger. But even then, hearing him say that hateful word didn’t have the same effect as hearing him say “nigger” repeatedly, and that’s because nigger, as opposed to kaffir, is a racial epithet native to our country – it’s an American word, and it’s a huge part of our history.

The purpose of Django Unchained is to entertain, it’s a work of fiction stylized as a post-modern, spaghetti western movie, but it’s also one of the first massively popular movies to discuss the topics of race and slavery, and it does so in a manner that is oftentimes uncomfortable for its (largely) non-black audience. And for this, Tarantino has received plenty of criticism, from blacks and non-blacks, alike, the loudest of whom is Spike Lee. Dr. Henry Louis Gates sat down with Tarantino for The Root, and broached this subject:

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Spike Lee‘s on your ass all the time about using the word “nigger.” What would you say to black filmmakers who are offended by the use of the word “nigger” and/or offended by the depictions of the horrors of slavery in the film?

Quentin Tarantino: Well, you know if you’re going to make a movie about slavery and are taking a 21st-century viewer and putting them in that time period, you’re going to hear some things that are going to be ugly, and you’re going see some things that are going be ugly. That’s just part and parcel of dealing truthfully with this story, with this environment, with this land.

Personally, I find [the criticism] ridiculous. Because it would be one thing if people are out there saying, “You use it much more excessively in this movie than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi.” Well, nobody’s saying that. And if you’re not saying that, you’re simply saying I should be lying. I should be watering it down. I should be making it more easy to digest.

No, I don’t want it to be easy to digest. I want it to be a big, gigantic boulder, a jagged pill and you have no water.

As I said earlier, Django is a love story, but it’s this feeling of uneasiness for the viewer that steals the show. And the discourse post-Django is leading new a newly broached discussion of race. Rembert Browne, for Grantland, wrote about the movie:

Being uncomfortable. False ownership of terms. False ownership of cultures. Troubled histories. Finger-pointing. Segregation in an integrated world (or is it integration in a segregated world?). All of these things contributed to the myriad emotions I felt in that theater. But these were just my emotions. There were hundreds of people in that theater alone, and hundreds of thousands more have already viewed the movie. Everyone‘s seeing Django. That’s what makes it an important work, beyond the quality, because we’re all having to deal with it, together.

Within that same piece he shares one of my favorite moments in journalistic history. Jake Hamilton, a film critic, decided to ask Samuel L. Jackson (who plays perhaps the greatest, most horrific Uncle Tom in the history of cinema) about the controversy surrounding the film’s usage of the world “nigger.” (Skip to the 13:56 mark; transcript via Rembert.)

Hamilton: There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the usage of, uh, the N-word, in this movie.

Jackson: No? Nobody? None … the word would be?

Hamilton: [Whispered.] I don’t want to say it.

Jackson: Why not?

Hamilton: I don’t like to say it.

Jackson: Have you ever said it?

Hamilton: No, sir.

Jackson: Try it.

Hamilton: I don’t like to say it.


Hamilton: Really? Seriously?

Jackson: We’re not going to have this conversation unless you say it.


Jackson: Wanna move on to another question?

Hamilton: OK. Awesome.

Jackson: [Laughs.]

Hamilton: I don’t like — I don’t want to say it.

Jackson: Oh, come on.

Hamilton: Will you say it?

Jackson: No, fuck no. It’s not the same thing.

Hamilton: Why do you want me to —

Jackson: They’re gonna bleep it when you say it on the show. SAY IT.

Hamilton: I, I can’t say it. If I say it, this question won’t make air.

Jackson: OK, forget it.

Hamilton: I’ll skip it. Sorry, guys. It was a good question.

Jackson: No it wasn’t.

Hamilton: It was a great question.

Jackson: It wasn’t a great question if you can’t say the word.

That moment is so significant in so many ways. It shows that, as a society, we can’t have a constructive discussion about race unless we can grow the fuck up and talk about it like adults. What strikes me, though, is that in that same piece, Rembert uses the terms nigger, nigga, and fuck, and yet, somehow, it is only the latter which was not censored by his editors, or (possibly worse) his parent companies (ESPN and Disney). The central thesis to his piece was that 2013 was going to be the year we discuss race:

And in the world we live in today, where access to various modes of public expression is becoming increasingly accessible, the walls around “talking about race” are rapidly crumbling. Finally. And, just as a heads-up, if this makes you uncomfortable, if the idea of potentially offending someone is your greatest fear, or if you’re content to discuss it like a simpleton, then 2013 might not be your year. This, my friends, is the new apocalypse. Buckle up.

To me, there’s too much irony in Rembert castigating those who are content to discuss race like a simpleton, yet being content with having the word in question censored by the powers-that-be. (Note: I would like to point out that this isn’t so much a criticism of Rembert or his piece, I really enjoyed it, and most of his work, but, rather, of whoever made the decision to censor the word. If that happened to be Rembert, then this entire sidebar is made pointless.) It renders the entire thesis moot. Are some of us ready to have this discussion? Sure. But this all shows that, we, as a society, are clearly not ready to talk about this, and it’s a fucking shame that we can’t, because it’s about time we do.

Every time this discussion arises I end up feeling like Michael Bluth in Arrested Development: the mere fact that you call it the “N-word” tells me that you aren’t ready to discuss it and its meaning, and the broader concepts of race and slavery in the context of America’s sociocultural history. Django Unchained is obviously a work of fiction – historical fiction if you’d like to call it that – but it’s also broaching a larger discussion of slavery, and also, in a wider context, of race in this country – the two issues which we seem to refuse to acknowledge as a society. Censoring the word “nigger” – in literature or art or academics – is nothing more than a denial of history and a refusal to acknowledge our troubling past. We can’t act as if centuries of slavery and racism did not (and, for the latter, still do) exist on this continent. Sugarcoating this topic does nothing but breed further ignorance. The fact is, discussing race should be uncomfortable, otherwise we’re depriving ourselves of the proper national conversation necessary for a topic as painful as race in American history, even for little white kids reading Twain. Especially for little white kids reading Twain. The word “nigger” is arguably the single most important word in the lexicological history of the American English dictionary. If we’re not able to confront this simple term – as painful as that may be – in a movie, then we clearly aren’t ready to tackle race as a society.

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Why Sammy Sosa is baseball’s Osama bin Laden (in a totally good way), and my imaginary Hall of Fame ballot.

At the close of every year, Time magazine names their “Person of the Year,” the man, woman or group of people whom they believe “for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year.” This year, their honoree was President Barack Obama. A little over eleven years ago, in 2001, Time had bestowed this title upon Rudy Giuliani in the wake of the attacks on September 11th. There was a more than valid argument, though, that this was a title more appropriate for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the aforementioned attacks (as well as many others). After all, Time had already set their precedent for these types of situations by naming Adolf Hitler their PotY in 1938, and Josef Stalin PotY in 1939, and again in 1942. There was even an argument that Adolf Hitler should have been named Time’s “Person of the Century,” with historian Nancy Gibbs writing that it was Hitler who “perhaps more than any other figure, who demanded a whole rethinking about good, evil, God and man.” She went on to ask, though: “Evil may be a powerful force, a seductive idea, but is it more powerful than genius, creativity, courage or generosity?” Time, of course, named Albert Einstein as their PotC (with Gandhi and FDR as the runners-up), so in their mind the evil of Adolf Hitler was not more powerful than the genius of Albert Einstein, which is certainly a valid opinion, but can also be debated endlessly. Which brings me back to the Rudy Giuliani/Osama bin Laden conundrum.

In the months following 9/11 it’s fair to say that America was drunk with patriotism – and rightfully so. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Osama bin Laden wasn’t named as Time’s PotY – giving him such a title would have, essentially, strengthened him. Which was why Time’s anointment of Mayor Giuliani was as much a celebration of his resolve as it was a condemnation of bin Laden’s cowardice. In Time’s PotY feature on Giuliani, Gibbs wrote:

If the graves alone were the measure, Osama bin Laden would own this year; we lost more lives on Sept. 11 than in any terrorist attack in U.S. history. And bin Laden did more than kill people. We had just packed up and stored away the century of Hitler and Stalin–both Men of the Year in their time–which we imagined had shown us the depths to which a despot could sink. To watch bin Laden sit in delight and create a skyscraper with his hand–like a child playing Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple–then slowly crumple it into a fist was to confront not only the nature of evil but how much we still don’t know about it.

But bin Laden is too small a man to get the credit for all that has happened in America in the autumn of 2001. Imagination makes him larger than he is in order that he fit his crime; yet those who have studied his work do not elevate him to the company of history’s monsters, despite the monstrousness of what he has done. It is easy to turn grievance into violence; that takes no genius, just a lack of scruple and a loaded gun. The killers he dispatched were braver men than he; he has a lot of money and a lot of hate, and when he is gone there will be others to take his place.

What she was basically admitting was that bin Laden was the most important newsmaker of 2001, but because of the cowardice of his deeds – and because he wasn’t on par with the monsters of yore, Hitler and Stalin – he doesn’t deserve the award. Which is, I guess, understandable when you’re as drunk as we were as a nation. In hindsight, though, it’s kind of silly (as most things you do while drunk are). It’s ludicrous to suggest that any single human being had a larger impact in 2001 – or in the 21st century, for that matter (save for, possibly, Barack Obama) – than Osama bin Laden. Act of cowardice or not, that single attack – and the fear, and seeming imminence, of more attacks – changed the securitization of our country, and the world, forever; it changed our relationship with the Middle East, and almost institutionalized Islamophobia and intolerance; it led us into two costly wars (in terms of both lives and money) which exacerbated our economic woes even further; and the securitization led to the emergence of the modern American surveillance state. Rudy Giuliani ran for president and failed to win even a single state before withdrawing from the Republican primaries.

I really don’t give a shit about Time’s PotY, though. I mean, I care about it because I believe the person(s) they name serve as an accurate barometer of that given year’s political or cultural climate, but I don’t give a shit about it because Time is a fairly nondescript, irrelevant publication at this stage of its life. And because of this, the people who choose their PotY are even more irrelevant than this publication – hilariously, of course, the PotY is now determined by online polling of Time’s readership, the only group of people more irrelevant than the people whose words they read. What I care about is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and its selection process for inductees.

The debate being had within baseball circles is whether or not users of performance-enhancing drugs – or even suspected users of PEDs, without any tangible evidence – deserve enshrinement. One side of the argument believes any, and all, players whose careers are deserving, should be enshrined; the other side believes…well, I’m not quite sure. Some believe they cheated – even though, for most of the players in question, PEDs were not banned by Major League Baseball at the time of their suspected use. Some believe they violated the Hall of Fame’s “character clause” because they used substances banned by federal law. Others believe some nonsense about it being bad for children? or something? Honestly, it’s difficult to keep track of all of the ridiculous excuses some of these writers will use to keep worthy players out of the Hall based on nothing more than suspicion, or perhaps a grudge. The problem, of course, is that the latter seem to far outnumber the former, which seems to be leading to a Hall of Fame (possibly) devoid of an entire generation of stars, which, in turn, poses an even bigger question: is simple suspicion of PED use a disqualifier for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame?

We know Rafael Palmeiro used performance-enhancing drugs because he tested positive for them. We believe Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire used them because there seems to be evidence and reporting to support that claim. Some suspect Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza used them because the former looked like Popeye the Sailor Man and the latter had bacne. The trouble I have with this is the question of why some are above suspicion while others are not? Why are some writers willing to dismiss Jeff Bagwell, but not his smaller-in-stature teammate, Craig Biggio? Is this an insinuation that I believe Bagwell or Biggio used PEDs? No. But any suspicion of Bagwell, or Piazza, or any other player from this era must similarly be applied to all players from the era, because, really, how are we to determine – without actual evidence – who we believe to be users and non-users? Is it a character judgement? Because, as Brandon McCarthy points out, “Marvin Harrison was an all-time great character guy. Whoops.”

The point is that you can’t simply pick and choose which players you wish to believe did or did not use performance-enhancing drugs – this is one of the few moments where an absolutist philosophy toward voting is acceptable. Which leaves two options: disregard PED suspicions and vote for whomever you believe is deserving, or vote for no one from the era. Voting for no one, though, is more than just problematic: it’s a denial of our history and of our culture. We seem to forget that the Hall of Fame is – above all else – a museum, and a museum such as the Hall of Fame is meant to preserve the history of baseball and its most significant contributors, for better or worse.

The truth is that the players of the supposed “steroid era,” or whichever moniker you wish to apply to it, had just as great of an impact on the game as Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth.* Mark McGwire’s and Sammy Sosa’s chase of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998 revived baseball following the 1994 strike – even Bud Selig would admit this. What they did was turn an entire generation of young kids into lifelong baseball fans (myself included). Since then, baseball as a sport has steadily gained in popularity, and, in turn, Major League Baseball has steadily grown as a money-making machine. In 1998, for example, the team with the largest revenue (the Yankees) brought in $175.5 million, while the team with the smallest revenue (Expos) brought in $46.5 million (via Biz of Baseball/Forbes). In 2012, the highest and lowest revenue numbers were $439 million (Yankees), and $160 million (Athletics). Yes, of course, there are any number of reasons for this – DVR proof television leading to absurd TV-rights contracts, new ballparks, the internet, and inflation – but all of these factors (save for inflation, of course) are entirely dependent on the popularity of the sport, a popularity cultivated, largely, by the home runs off of the bats of our suspected PED users. Chicks dig the longball, and it’s clear that the entire industry profited off of these so-called “cheaters.” Profits went up, Bud Selig’s salary went up, columnists like Mike Lupica wrote books praising McGwire and Sosa.** Everyone was swimming in cash, and yet no one chose to address the elephant in the room. But now, after they’ve all profited from this supposed crime against the sport, they choose to condemn them? What they’re doing would be akin to banking executives ten years from now – after making billions on sub-prime mortgages and derivatives trading – firing the guys who made them all of their money, because, you know, maybe they shouldn’t have been taking so much risk.

*The irony, of course, is that Aaron used amphetamines, Cobb was an alcoholic and a racist, and Ruth never faced a Dominican with a Bugs Bunny changeup. So your “character clause” is a sham, and your “level playing field” is a myth.

**And ripped off his title from David Halberstam. Sure, he might consider it an homage, I consider it a blowhard with no creativity.

The hypocrisy of the entire industry is palpable. Tell Barack Obama, or the people at Halliburton and Blackwater, that Osama bin Laden didn’t have a greater impact than Rudy Giuliani – they’d laugh at the suggestion. Time’s “Person of the Year” is essentially the “News Hall of Fame.” It’s a title bestowed upon the biggest newsmakers every year, much in the same way the Baseball Hall of Fame honors the baseball players with the biggest impacts on the game every year. To deny the players of this era admittance into the Hall of Fame is to deny the impact they had on the sport, for better and for worse – because, let’s just be honest, if you’re between Roger Clemens and Jack Morris, who do you think left a bigger mark on the game? Let’s just hope our Guardians of the Hall don’t make too many decisions while drunk with superiority.


I’m filling out my own imaginary ballot, because, well, why the fuck not. I’ve broken it down to different categories, and then the ballot (listed in order of strength of candidacy).

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