Should Steroid Users Make Baseball’s All-Star Team? Should Felonious and Hypocritical Ex-Governors Be Elected Comptroller?

Bartolo and Eliot

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan made what I assume will be a controversial argument that baseball players who have tested positive for steroids at any point in their careers should be permanently banned from being honored with inclusion on baseball’s All-Star teams. This is controversial, because a lot of misguided souls, including sportswriters, think that proven steroid cheats ought to be allowed into baseball’s Hall of Fame, a much greater and more significant career honor. The issue arises because Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, who last year tested positive for banned PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs)and was suspended for 5o days, has been selected for the American League All-Star squad. Brennan writes,

“Colon, and every other performance-enhancing drug user in baseball, should never be allowed to become an All-Star, or win any MLB award. No Cy Young, no MVP, no batting title, no nothing. It doesn’t matter that he was caught and suspended last year, not this year…The bottom line is, you don’t suddenly become a non-cheater once your suspension is over. Colon is 40 years old, yet he’s having his best season in eight years. Where have we heard that before? Even though last year’s illegal testosterone isn’t still in his system, it helped build the body that he is using today…Because Colon and his tainted body are in the All-Star Game, someone like (Tampa Bay pitcher Matt) Moore is not. He has the same record as Colon, 12-3, but with a higher ERA, 3.42 to Colon’s 2.69. We’re presuming, of course, that Moore is not on PEDs, which means his season is more impressive than Colon’s because it isn’t built on a chemical foundation as Colon’s is…It’s a privilege to receive these honors, not a right. They are extras, add-ons, awards to be cheered. They do not belong to the Brauns, A-Rods and Colons of this world. Those players should be given absolutely nothing to celebrate.”

I admit that I had never focused on this issue before, but now that I have, I agree with Brennan. It certainly is an excellent way to further discourage drug cheating in baseball. So few players get admitted to the Hall of Fame that the likelihood of being blackballed from Cooperstown won’t have any impact on the majority of potential cheaters: the most likely steroid users are borderline players just trying to keep their jobs, not players who are already established stars. But the All-Star Game isn’t outside the reach of most players, and being permanently banned from the honor would be a pretty effective scarlet “C”.

The ethics point being made is, of course, trust. It means that while a player hasn’t been banned from the sport entirely, his accomplishments will always be suspect. He may be forgiven, but we will never forget. Brennan makes an argument I have made repeatedly here in other contexts: given a choice between trusting someone who has proven themselves untrustworthy once and someone who has not, the ethical and rational choice is always to go with the individual who is not (yet) subject to suspicion.

Yes, yes, redemption. In Washington, D.C., former mayor Marion Barry, now a city councilman for  the city’s ethically-inert Ward 8, was just censored and fined for accepting illegal gifts from city contractors. Barry, of course, was elected mayor after his first occupancy of the office ended with his being caught on video smoking crack, and he has been re-elected to represent Ward 8 despite more arrests, ethics violation, and even income tax evasion. His loyal supporters speak of redemption, how we are all flawed children of God, and how anyone can make a mistake. Barry, for his part, smiles inwardly and thinks, “BOY, are these people stupid,” for he has not changed, and will not, just as Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Mel Gibson, Alec Baldwin, Keith Olbermann and Lindsay Lohan didn’t or haven’t changed, despite one or more “second chances.” We trust such people at our peril, and why should we court peril if we don’t have to?

I think sports teams that want to send the right and the effective message about cheating ought to refuse to hire players like Bartolo Colon. Don’t ban him; just make it obvious that the teams who hire him are, to some extent, excusing and encouraging dishonest conduct. Similarly, I think states and cities that want to send the right and effective message about corrupt and untrustworthy politicians must have voters who soundly reject redemption-seeking candidates like South Carolina’s disgraced, loverboy  ex-governor Mark Sanford (recently elected to Congress), Anthony “That’s not MY penis on Twitter…wait, yes it is, you got me!” Weiner (now doing well in the polls to be New York City’s next mayor), and Client #9 himself, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who was elected in part by his prosecutorial zeal in chasing prostitution rings, and then continued to be a consumer of one while he was in office. Spitzer is, incredibly, running to be state comptroller, and he might be elected. Can John Edwards be far behind?

If we want to encourage ethical conduct, we shouldn’t continue to reward, honor and trust those who have been demonstrably and seriously unethical. The principle should apply in baseball, government, and life.

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Source: USA Today 1, 2

8 thoughts on “Should Steroid Users Make Baseball’s All-Star Team? Should Felonious and Hypocritical Ex-Governors Be Elected Comptroller?

  1. Well, this whole issue begs the question of when, if ever, is anyone to be trusted who has at some point in time betrayed trust, cheated, broken the law, slipped down the slope of righteousness into perdition, etc.? One point could be taken that they might be trusted again but must never be part of the system/organization/community/whatever whose trust has been betrayed. Unfortunately, many times they are seen as guilty in one situation, expected to be guilty in any situation, therefore never to be trusted again. You mentioned redemption, and I know that there are many Marion Barry’s out there. Surely recidivism is a reason to not trust, and it is fairly rampant. But truly, how does one redeem oneself? Is there some cosmic 12-step program through which someone “addicted” to bad behavior can become “clean” again? And then there’s forgiveness. I’m not being argumentative. I am seriously pondering this question and would love to see your answers.

    • One redeems oneself by penance, by sacrifice, by genuine remorse, by demonstrable change in attitude and conduct, by other conduct conducive of trust…….and doing it all not to regain trust, but as genuine recognition of wrongdoing. And even this will usually not undo the distrust in the particular field. Nor should it. Tell me–is there anything Edward Snowden should be able to do to allow himself to be trusted with government secrets again? Would you marry OJ? Should Bill Clinton be trusted to be in a faithful relationship? Ever?

      • You are absolutely right, and I do believe that such persons should never again be active in the field where they were proven untrustworthy. It’s the fact that this spills over into all fields, though, that worries me. Bill Clinton — untrustworthy as a spouse; untrustworthy as a foundation executive? I’m trying to come up with other examples. Clinton has not, seemingly, done any of the things you mention — sacrifice, remorse, penance, change in attitude. But even if he did — would you trust him? I doubt it. I guess I’m just worried about “once guilty, forever guilty” attitudes in humanity which is a relatively unforgiving bunch of creatures.

  2. Unfortunately winning records, partisanship, looks, racial loyalty, and the nebulous “cool factor,” not to mention money, trump ethics every day of the week and twice on Sunday. As someone who’s forced more than 50 people out of public employment, and Jack, I’m sure with your legal background you know this too, I can tell you that the only way anyone gets locked out of goverment once and for all is by criminal conviction which results in forfeiture of public employment or disqualification from holding public office. None of the politicians here have that, so their political base can keep putting them right back in, which says as much about the base as it does about them. As for the celebrity figures mentioned, as long as they keep producing good copy and their looks hold up, they’ll always get another chance. The only way that stops is if enough incontrovertible evidence leaks out of drug use or something like that that they become uninsurable, which usually sends them into that final downward spiral.

  3. Since when does a single league violation merit a permanent ban to anything? NFL players have killed others, served hard time and are allowed to play and compete for any prizes including HOF.

    Money is the true motivation and the monetary punishment is the best discouragement.
    50 game suspension, followed by a 100 game, etc is worth millions of dollars in penalties even for an average player.

    If that doesn’t keep athletes honest, nothing will.

    • Boy, JJ, for a smart guy, you are sure addicted to rationalizations.

      “Since when does a single league violation merit a permanent ban to anything?” So what? “Everybody does it” That doesn’t mean that single league violations can’t or rightfully shouldn’t. (You’re wrong anyway. One instance of gambling on baseball or throwing a game get you banned for life. Presumably attacking an umpire and beating him senseless would also result in a ban. Being arrested for murder has, in effect, ended a Patriots player’s career.)

      NFL players have killed others, served hard time and are allowed to play and compete for any prizes including HOF. “There are worse things.” So what? So the fact that the NFL is irresponsible makes it ethical to be irresponsible?

  4. Should Steroid Users Make Baseball’s All-Star Team? Should Felonious and Hypocritical Ex-Governors Be Elected Comptroller?

    No. And No. Next question.

    And God help us all if Anthony Weiner get’s elected to even dog catcher. I’ll need to have my TV remote child-proofed so I can’t ever tune to MSNBC ever again. I’d be tempted to and sure enough Anthony Wiener will be on there reading the most scurrilous Dem talking points of the day again. Ugh.

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