The Ethics of Cheering Alex Rodriguez

Poor Alex Rodriguez and his wife...

Poor, downtrodden, Alex Rodriguez and his wife…

Baseball’s most embarrassing super-star, the steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez, in playing for the New York Yankees while appealing his long suspension by Major League baseball. As he is unquestionably a repeat liar and a serial violator of the game’s rules against PED’s (performance enhancing drugs), as he signed a contract, in part generated by the results of his cheating, that will both enrich him by millions and handicap his team competitively while conferring few, if any benefits, as he would qualify, by most objective standards, as the antithesis of a sports hero, the fact that Arod, as he is called, still was cheered by a vocal minority in Yankee Stadium when he made his season debut this week is intriguing. What does this mean? Can it be ethical to cheer Rodriquez now?

These are deceptively complex and difficult questions. The threshold  issue is whether cheering or jeering any sports figure, or any public figure at all, is an act with ethical content rather than just a communication of an opinion. Is it conduct, or just “words”? I think, in the context of the Rodriquez situation, a sound argument can be made that it is conduct. Registering group approval or disapproval of prominent conduct by someone of status and influence is a crucial societal function in setting standards, registering disapproval, and prompting shame, regret, apology and reform—none of which, so far at least, seem to register with Arod.

That is pretty clearly what the boos convey, but what about the cheers? If the boos are ethical—they are if the disapproval is proportionate, rational, fair, and just—then are the cheers automatically unethical? Not necessarily. Here are some of the things those cheers could be expressing:

  • Civility. Many people, and I am usually among them, feel that booing and jeering at public events are rude and inappropriate public conduct. I wouldn’t boo Arod. I wouldn’t cheer him to express my disapproval of the boos, but I could applaud the motivation of someone who did.
  • Loyalty for the home team. Loyalty is often misplaced: it can lead one down some unethical paths, and this may be an example. Some cheers for Rodriguez, however, may have only been designed to support the Yankees in a difficult situation, where they have to pay a player millions, can’t legally treat him as suspended, but will be embarrassed if he’s on the field, wearing the pinstripes.
  • Sympathy for the underdog. It’s hard for me to see a cheating baseball tycoon as the underdog, but Alex is being made the target of a concerted effort to scare baseball’s athletes straight, and one could reasonably, if not correctly, conclude that he is a victim.
  • Contempt for Major League Baseball’s methods and hypocrisy. Baseball allowed the steroid and PED problem to grow and harm the game by contrived ignorance, and then became vengeful and self-righteous reformers. This doesn’t excuse or mitigate Arod’s very calculated cheating, but many people operate under the ethical delusion that it does.
  • Siding with the worker over management. Arod has about as much in common with the working man as I have in common with Kate Upton, but still, there are may Americans who see disapproval of Rodriquez as siding with the devil, in the person of the exploitive, manipulative, unethical corporations and rich families that run Major League Baseball, and indeed all professional sports. In the mind if these people, cheering Arod is just consistency of principle.
  • Libertarian values; “It’s a dumb law/stupid rule.” Drugs shouldn’t be illegal, and sports shouldn’t be in the business of telling athletes what drugs to take.
  • Support for a former hero in hard times. The argument is that the present doesn’t erase the past. I get it. There are people in my life who I owe a lot to, and virtually nothing they could do now would change that dept. Cheer for what was, and still matters, not for what is.
  • Sarcasm.
  • Rationalizations: “Nobody’s perfect,” “Let he that is without sin…,” “They got away with it, so should he,” “It’s not like he killed somebody,” etc.
  • Arod is better than the pathetic no-hit wonders the Yankees have been forced to play in his absence, so his bat is what is getting cheered, not his conduct. This is a pure, non-ethical considerations-driven response. The Yankees are more likely to win with Rodriguez, and he’s allowed to be in the line-up. “Yay!”
  • Who cares about cheating? Or lying? Or lying about cheating? Everybody does it.

I’m sure all of these motivations were represented among the cheers. The problem is that in aggregate, the cheering will naturally be interpreted to mean one thing only: approval of Alex Rodriguez and either forgiveness of his conduct, or endorsement of it. That message is harmful and poses a danger to baseball, sport and society. Contributing to it in any way, for whatever reason, is unethical.


7 thoughts on “The Ethics of Cheering Alex Rodriguez

  1. Good analysis. I wouldn’t cheer Arod if I were a yankee fan. I cheered manny Ramirez here in LA until it became clear that he was a cheat. Then I stopped cheering. It became complicated because I wanted him to strike out AND I wanted the Dodgers to win. I solved my dilemma by tuning out of the Dodgers. Now I’m a happy fan again.

  2. Rodieguez should be suspended WITHOUT PAY, while he fights his clearly losing battle. If MLB had any guts, and cared about anything but fan opinion. they would do it. A Rod isn’t the only one… just the most recent and most egotistical one.

    • Sure, we can all look at A Rod and see how he’s cynically manipulating the protections afforded him to squeeze more money out of the Yankees, and making a farce out of the process. But the appeal system is intended to prevent miscarriages of justice- a player suspended improperly should be able to fight that injustice, and not be punished while defending himself. Unfortunately, anything designed to protect from abuse will end up being cynically misused by abusers as well.

  3. I think you intentionally glossed over an important reason for cheering: RACE/ETHNICITY/TYPE.

    Baseball is entertainment, and a paying fan can cheer boo laugh or cry to their heart’s content, and should not be judged for it. That’s why we go, to share in the pageantry of sports and have a good time.

  4. I’ve got an idea.

    When they were filming the Cell, a woman was acting like she was thrashing in the water and drowning. The director said, “if you’re REALLY in trouble, beat your chest like a gorilla, because that’s not something you’d normally do if you’re still acting and we’ll get you out of there.”

    I was just listening to Stayin’ Alive. I’ve heard people say the beat of that song is the beat you’re supposed to do chest compressions at if you’re doing CPR (it’s about 100 beats a minute).

    What if we clapped for A-Rod every fourth beat? Think about the song and go one-two-three-CLAP-one-two-three-CLAP.

    Nobody normally claps that way, and that could be the signal that says, “Hey A-Rod, you’re a jerk.” Silence for two seconds, then CLAP. Silence, CLAP.

  5. Pingback: The Ethics of Cheering Alex Rodriguez | Ethics ...

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