Category Archives: Sports

The Abysmal Quality of Ethical Reasoning in Baseball: A Depressing Case Study

"Dirt."

“Dirt.”

The first bona fide ethics controversy of the 2014 baseball season has erupted, and it involves the team of my youth, the Boston Red Sox. It is not the controversy itself that is so noteworthy, for it is an old, old one: pitchers using foreign substances to doctor the balls so they dip, curve, and sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” What is noteworthy is the reaction to the incident by players and the sports media, which has me feeling that as an ethicist, I need to think about following another sport. The ethics reasoning, or lack of it, is truly depressing.

What happened was this: During last night’s Red Sox-Yankee game in Yankee Stadium, the Boston broadcasting team of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy noticed a glossy brown substance on New York starting pitcher Michael Pineda’s pitching hand. It was very obvious, especially once the NESN cameras started zooming in on it.   “There’s that substance, that absolutely looks like pine tar,” play-by-play man Don Orsillo said. “Yeah, that’s not legal,” color commentator and former player Jerry Remy replied.

Indeed it isn’t.  According to rule 8.02(a)(2), (4) and (5), the pitcher shall not expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove; apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball; [or]  deface the ball in any manner.

The Red Sox, who probably knew about the gunk on Pineda’s hand, didn’t complain to the umpires, and just went about their merry way, losing the game. Asked about the stuff on his hand, Pineda demonstrated the full range of body language indicating that he was lying his head off. “It was dirt,’ he said. Later, when the ick appeared to be gone,  Pineda explained, he had just sweated his hand clean. Right. Whatever was on his hand—beef gravy, crankcase oil, chocolate syrup…the majority of pundits think pine tar—it wasn’t “dirt.” Pineda’s manager, Joe Girardi, was brazenly evasive.

The Yankee pitcher was cheating. This isn’t a major scandal, but cheating is cheating: sports shouldn’t allow cheating of any kind, because if a sport allows some cheating, however minor, it will encourage cynical, unscrupulous and unethical individuals on the field, in the stands, and behind keyboard to excuse all other forms of cheating, from corked bats to performance enhancing drugs. Cheating is wrong. Cheating unfairly warps the results of games, and rewards dishonesty rather than skill. Cheating undermines the enjoyment of any game among serious fans who devote energy and passion to it. Any cheating is a form of rigging, a variety of lying.

And yet, this clear instance of cheating, caught on video, primarily sparked the sports commentariat, including most fans, to cite one rationalization and logical fallacy after another to justify doing nothing, and not just doing nothing, but accepting the form of cheating as “part of the game.” I’ve been reading columns and listening to the MLB channel on Sirius-XM and watch the MLB channel on Direct TV since this episode occurred. Here are the reactions, my comments in bold:

  • This isn’t a new phenomenon. Show me the statute of limitations on ongoing misconduct, please. Also not new: torture, rape, adultery, incest, bribery and embezzlement. So what? That makes these things all right? Excuses society from trying to reduce their occurrence?

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Jerry and Jared Remy, Parental Accountability, Hindsight Bias, and The Bad Seed

This is a tragic local story with vast ethics significance.

Father and son.

Father and son.

Long-time Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, a native Bostonian and former player who has been a vivid part of the Boston sports scene since 1977, was stunned by tragedy last summer when his oldest son, Jared, 35, allegedly murdered his girlfriend by stabbing her to death as their  ive-year-old daughter looked on. Prior to the incident, most New Englanders were unaware of Jared Remy’s problems, but his ugly past soon found its way into the newspapers.

A recent Boston Globe investigative report appeared to be the saga of a “bad seed” right out of a horror movie, for Jared Remy, son the popular, affable Jerry, had been arrested, and released, 19 times, for an assortment of alleged crimes, many of them violent. They included battering and threatening a high school girlfriend; pushing a pregnant girlfriend out of a moving car; texting death threats to her, and attempting to beat her up; threatening to kill yet another girlfriend;  terrorizing a fourth sufficiently that police were called to their apartment eight times; and involvement in steroid peddling and abuse. The Globe also obtained the testimony of a woman who alleges that Jared joined her in brutally beating a high school boy, causing him permanent brain injuries.

The Globe story (and others) raised the question of how and why the Massachusetts justice system kept releasing Jared. It is a valid question, not peculiar to his case, unfortunately. Many have speculated that Jared’s  status as the son of popular Boston sports figure played a part in getting him extraordinary leniency, but as Remy’s lawyer pointed out, several of the incidents also involved complainants and alleged victims who refused to testify or withdrew their complaints. In the realm of domestic abuse, evidently Jared Remy’s specialty, this is too common. The Globe writer, Eric Moskowitz, also insinuated that the Remys went too far in supporting their disturbed, violent and troubled son, who had learning disabilities and other clinical behavioral problems. They apparently paid for psychiatric treatment, counseling and legal fees, and helped with his rent and other expenses, though the extent of this has not been confirmed by the Remys, the only ones who could be authoritative on the topic. The rest is hearsay.

Jerry Remy, who has battled depression his whole adult life, withdrew from his role as color commentator after his son’s arrest, missing the Red Sox championship run. Outside of a brief statement condemning his son’s actions and expressing condolences to the parents of the victim, Jennifer Martel, Remy was silent until announcing this Spring that he would try returning to the broadcast booth for the upcoming season. Then, as Spring Training for the Red Sox ran down and Remy seemed, outwardly at least, capable as ever of being an affable presence with whom to watch the home team’s exploits,  the Globe story appeared. The revelations about Jared unleashed an unexpected (by me, at least) backlash against his father, and Bostonians in droves bombarded the sports radio talk shows, blogs and news media websites with the opinion that Remy should step down as Red Sox color man for cable broadcasts. How they reached this ethically indefensible position is instructive regarding how inept and unskilled most people are in day-to-day ethical analysis, how emotion becomes a substitute for objectivity and logic,  how hindsight bias makes experts and judges out of individuals with the credentials of neither, and also how ignorant most of the public is about the ethical obligations and duties of the legal profession.

Here are the reasons being cited for why Jerry Remy should give up his career:

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Legal, Unethical, and Despicable: The Seattle Mariners’ Contract Squeeze Play On Randy Wolf

"We made Mr. Wolf an offer he couldn't refuse. Oddly, he refused it."

“We made Mr. Wolf an offer he couldn’t refuse. Oddly, he refused it.”

What is it worth to a baseball team to save a million bucks? Apparently it’s worth being shunned by future players for being sleazy and dishonest.

Oh, it was all legal, don’t get me wrong. The Seattle Mariners, who, it should be noted, recently signed second-baseman Robinson Cano to a ten year contract averaging 24 million dollars a season, inked a deal with veteran pitcher Randy Wolf that guaranteed him a paltry million dollars if he made the team’s roster based on his performance in Spring Training. Sure enough,Wolf pitched well and not only made the team, but was told that he would be in the Mariners’ starting rotation.

There was a catch, however. Wolf was told that his being officially named to the team’s 2014 25 man roster to start the season—that’s next week, baseball fans—was contingent on him signing a legal document known as a 45-day advanced-consent release form. This would  allow the Mariners to release or demote Wolf after the first 45 days of the regular season and be obligated to only pay him a pro-rated portion of his million dollar salary, rather than the entire one million dollars his original deal guaranteed. In other words, “Gotcha!” The perfect Catch 22. “Yes, you are guaranteed a million dollars, Mister Wolf, if you make the team, and you made the team. We keep our promises. We want you on the team. But if you don’t waive that guarantee, we won’t let you make the team.

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Case Study: Rationalization #2

Also, the team's mascot is this thing...

Also, the team’s mascot is this thing…

Note to all you baseball haters and National Pastime illiterates: This case study arises out of baseball, but it’s not a baseball ethics post. I’m in Boston, it’s Spring Training—give me a break.

A clear-cut rules violation by the Boston Red Sox has been nearly universally dismissed by fans and media alike by one of the most egregious uses of #2 on the Ethics Alarms Rationalization list. In case you don’t have your rationalizations memorized yet—and you should, because when you hear them in your head, you are about to do something unethical—this is the one, and it’s second on the list only to “Everybody does it” for good reason. It’s one of the most popular and destructive rationalizations of all:

2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse,

or “They had it coming”

The mongrel offspring of The Golden Rationalization and the Bible-based dodges a bit farther down the list, the “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse is both a rationalization and a distraction. As a rationalization, it posits the absurd argument that because there is other wrongdoing by others that is similar, as bad or worse than the unethical conduct under examination, the wrongdoer’s conduct shouldn’t be criticized or noticed. As a distraction, the excuse is a pathetic attempt to focus a critic’s attention elsewhere, by shouting, “Never mind me! Why aren’t you going after those guys?”

Its other familiar, equally absurd but even more corrupting manifestation is the “They had it coming” variation. This argues that wrongdoing toward a party isn’t wrong because the aggrieved party doesn’t deserve ethical treatment because of its own misconduct. But the misconduct of a victim never justifies unethical conduct directed against that victim. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero: Michael Sam”

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

The media and sports talk show uproar about NFL prospect Michael Sam announcing that he is gay prior to the upcoming NFL draft has subsided considerably (just wait until Draft Day, though), but the Ethics Alarms threads about Sam’s decision and the ethical dilemmas and choices it represents remain vigorous.

Here is Penn’s thoughtful and well-rendered comment from yesterday, the Comment of the Day, on the post, Ethics Hero: Michael Sam…

Interesting “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” discussion here. The only point I see is that Sam stepped up to the plate (dis gut NFL speak, no?), which took guts. In this, I am in full agreement with Jack’s first paragraph.

Whatever Sam’s motivations or goals, or the reactions (or non) of his chosen profession and its fan-atics, or the general public, I don’t see any value in arguing generalized outcomes (unless they are exercises in ethics, naturally). I can say as much sooth as anyone, based on both anecdotal and empirical evidence; rather, I am talking about a negative value in doing so. [... maybe, if it's up on the tote-board in Vegas.] Such debates just degenerate into … well, what Jack was interpolating into several exchanges: the writers’ biases, and the public’s bigotry (of course, the latter does not exist among EA commenters). Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Boston Red Sox Pitcher Ryan Dempster

ivory-billed woodpecker

With a guaranteed contract that would pay him $13.25 million this year, all Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Ryan Dempster had to do was fail to make the team or be relegated to the disabled list to collect it all. Dempster felt, however, that his physical condition would not allow him to contribute to the team’s efforts to defend its 2013 World Championship, and that under the circumstances, decided that it would be better for all concerned if he didn’t play in 2014 and spent the year with his family. Thus, while not retiring, Ryan Dempster announced that he would forfeit the money owed to him.

Dempster made $13.25 million last year, and had made millions for many years before that; he certainly doesn’t “need” the money. Nevertheless, for a professional athlete to handle himself this way is about as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker sighting.  “I could have had a choice of trying to spend the entire season trying to work through those and trying to be able to pitch,” he said in his statement, delivered at the Red Sox Spring Training camp where the team is about to begin training. “But I just felt like it’s something that’s preventing me from doing the job I want to do, and I’m not going to go out there and put my team at a disadvantage or me at a disadvantage by not being able to compete the way I’m able to compete.”

Ryan Dempster, professional athlete, just placed team, family, integrity, and fairness above $13.25 million dollars.

Ethics Hero.

 

 

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Ethics Note To The Sports Media Regarding Their Coverage of Michael Sam: SHUT UP!

Sam

Ever since University of Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam made the announcement that he is gay, sports writers, broadcasters and columnists have been hailing his courage, bashing his detractors, and pointing with derision to the portion of social media buzz that has revealed the nation’s ugly homophobic side. The irony is that it is the mostly positive media obsession with Sam’s status as a potential trailblazer, rather than the antigay hate-mongers, who diminish Sam’s chances of success with their every word. This is obvious, or should be, yet the articles and rants keep on coming. I have to believe that it is a case of sports journalists engaging in the ultimate hypocrisy, making themselves look fair, unbigoted and devoted to the cause of full gay inclusion in American life (all while making their deadlines) while simultaneously and knowingly undermining the athlete they claim to be supporting. They have to shut up, or Sam is doomed.

Which means, unfortunately, that Sam is doomed….and that means that this episode, rather than advancing the cause of gay athletes, will be a serious setback for them instead. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Michael Sam

What NFL team wants to draft Caesar's wife?

What NFL team wants to draft Caesar’s wife?

Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, told ESPN Sunday that he is gay. “I am an openly, proud gay man.” Sam is projected to be a mid-round draft choice for the NFL draft in May. If he is drafted and makes the team, Sam would be the first openly gay active NFL player.

We shall see. Sam’s plan, he said, was to announce his sexual orientation after the draft, which might have been wiser and more practical, though not as ethical. He said that rumors were circulating, so he decided to come out now.

However he arrived at the decision, Sam’s candor is a courageous act, and I assume he will suffer for it. No NFL team has to draft him, and many teams that might have will not, presumably, simply to avoid the distraction of media scrutiny. If they draft him and cut him, will he claim that it was out of bigotry? Will he sue? I think most teams will decide that there are other similarly talented non-gay players available, and let some other team jump into these roiling social change and political waters. Continue reading

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We Are All Dan Snyder Now

Washington-Redskins

…and isn’t that a revolting development?

Few things infuriate me more than when unethical conduct by an individual or organization force me to side with the supporters of a position or a cause that I oppose myself. Last year, to cite the most egregious example, I found myself in the same camp with the National Rifle Association, Ted Nugent and worse when anti-gun zealots, uncritically backed by the news media, used dishonest, misleading, irrational and emotional appeals to try to pass more stringent gun ownership regulations on the wave of national horror over the Sandy Hook shooting. Indeed, the more fake statistics and shameless slippery slope arguments (“If we can save the life of only one child…”) that were aimed at guns and  law-abiding gun owners, the more I saw the wisdom of Second Amendment absolutism.

Thanks to the exorbitant and irresponsible rhetoric by the likes of Diane Feinstein, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Piers Morgan, Jim Carrey and others—Don’t tell ME what I “need” to protect my family and home; there’s a possible serial killer on the loose in my Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood at this very moment who has been randomly knocking on doors and shooting people—I no longer trust the government to make rational decisions that affect my options as a potential gun owner. Good work, guys. Before you started using kids as props, lying about the number of shootings, and sounding for all the world like a nation trying to make sure only the government could own legal weapons, I was a supporter of more stringent firearms regulations. You lost me. I am officially convinced that we may need  guns to protect ourselves against power-abusing people like you.

Now members of  Congress are trying to strong-arm Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder into changing the name of his football team, using the power of the government to pressure him, through the National Football League, into bending to their will on a matter that is absolutely none of their business. Great. Now I have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Snyder, whom we in the Washington area know as a spoiled rich kid, a bully, an egomaniac and a meddling fool who has progressively reduced the region’s beloved football team to tragic joke.

And you should stand with him too, if you think our Bill of Rights is worth preserving. Continue reading

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Tom Yawkey, J. Edgar Hoover, Political Correctness and Gratitude

Yawkey TributeIt’s not often that I am called upon to rebut a web post that relies on one of my articles for its unethical conclusions, but that is the position that Ron Chimelis has placed me in with his recent essay, Why the Boston Red Sox should rename Yawkey Way.

To catch you up quickly: Tom Yawkey was a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast who owned the Boston Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, making him the longest-tenured team owner in the sport’s history. Yawkey was almost certainly a racist; if he was not a racist, his team’s policies certainly were for many years. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and blacks did not have a significant place on the team’s roster until the late 1960s, two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. From the beginning, Yawkey ran the Red Sox as a public utility, paying little attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a winner out of the franchise that had been a perennial loser since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. After his death, Yawkey’s wife Jean continued the family tradition, running the Red Sox, except for a few years, until her own death in 1992.

When Tom Yawkey died, the City of Boston re-named Jersey Street, which runs past the entry to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, Yawkey Way in his honor.

In the unerring clarity of hindsight bias, Chimelis argues that Tom Yawkey is undeserving of any recognition by the city that he devoted much of his life to representing, enhancing, serving, inspiring and entertaining because racism is the ultimate crime, and anyone possessing that vile state of mind should be consigned to shame forever. It is a common point of view, and an unfair one. Continue reading

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