Dear nationally known sportswriter(s)/commentator(s):
You know who you are: You're cool; you're hip; you know the latest handshakes. (Before we even get started, I'm obviously not talking about the Arizona Daily Star's Greg Hansen, who is very, very good at what he does, but, to the best of my knowledge, is neither hip nor cool. Plus, I know personally that Greg still employs the generic Caucasian handshake.)
No, you're part of a new breed of sportswriter. You're one of those who have come out from behind the word processor and are now babbling on TV. Your face is out there to the point where you might get a nod and a point from The Big Jock at the club, perchance to increase your standing with the womenz. You make a lot of money, and you have a certain presence, but, like far too many other people, you've sold out. You're getting along by going along. You're a world-class shrugger, bereft of any constricting sense of responsibility.
In the past few days, I've seen many of you scrape rock bottom. First, there was the discussion of whether baseball pitcher Roger Clemens—who faces a stretch in prison if convicted of charges of lying to Congress about his alleged steroid use—should be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I've seen (and read) far too many of you saying, "This story is old; nobody cares about steroids."
Really?! I care. I know a whole lot of people who care. That lame-ass statement might convince one or two know-nothings to stop caring, but it will always be false, because I'm always going to care.
I'm one of those guys who used to love baseball. Growing up in Los Angeles, I pretty much worshipped the Koufax-Drysdale Dodgers. As I got older, I gravitated more toward football and basketball, but baseball was still there, rock-solid and American as can be. Baseball just about lost me with the prolonged strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series. I figured I'd give the sport one last chance to win me (and others like me) back. But instead of working hard and doing things right, Major League Baseball went for the cheap thrills and the easy money.
I'm decidedly old-school about sports. I've lived a long time, and I know that life often has gray areas. But sports never should. There are rules and customs and a universally held assumption of fairness. I know that John Wooden is quoted as having said that sports don't build character; they expose it. But I believe to my soul that, done right, sports can be used to fortify good character, to reward it and maybe—just maybe—to pass it along.
The world of sports offers the perfect venue for the teaching of right and wrong. Those might seem like archaic values to some, but right and wrong never go away. I was talking to a sportswriter the other day, and he shrugged, "Well, times change. What was right when we were kids isn't necessarily right now." Times do change, but right doesn't. Just 150 years ago, slavery was a way of life in much of this country. It was embraced by some, condoned by others and shrugged at by still others. But it was never right.
Likewise, cheating in sports is never right. It's not clever; it's not funny; it's not cool. And it's your damn job to point that out. I don't wanna hear that it's not your responsibility. It's not messy life or shifting politics. It's sports, and everybody involved should know the difference between right and wrong, and be on the side of right.
My sainted Italian mother, who was born under Mussolini (not literally; that would have been gross), told me that I should always have an opinion, because if I didn't, someone else would have my opinion for me. You sportswriters not only have the right to have an opinion; you also have the mechanism in place with which to express it in a widespread manner, and the possible opportunity to help shape the opinions of others. I consider it your responsibility, but far too many of you apparently consider it a chore. You'd rather try to build up some kind of cred with the bottom-feeders and the corner-cutters by rationalizing away bad behavior. You use your voice to tell people that you really don't want to use your voice.
On the heels of the Clemens talk came word that former USC cheater/running back Reggie Bush may be asked to return the 2005 Heisman Trophy that was mistakenly awarded to him. We now know he was ineligible to participate in college athletics that year, so it seems pretty clear that he was ineligible to be given an award for that participation.
But many of your fellow jock-sniffers have stormed out of the woodwork, screaming that Bush should keep it. Some claim he "earned it on the field." He shouldn't have been on the field, so he forfeited the right to "earn" it. Still others chant that he wasn't the only Heisman Trophy winner to have cheated. Sadly, that's probably true. But is that the stance you want to take—that others did it, so that makes it OK?
You guys act like you have no mothers.