Ethics Dunce: ESPN Blogger David Schoenfield

...reason is emotion, and emotion is reason...

…reason is emotion, and emotion is reason…

Every year about this time, a large group of baseball writers, not to mention fans, expose their ethics and analytical deficiencies by making terrible arguments for admitting steroid-using stars of note into baseball’s Hall of Fame. The voting for the Hall is going on now, you see, and this year a bumper crop of candidates were either proven steroid users or reasonably suspected of being so.

Also every year at this time, I pick one of those ethically-challenged writers as an Ethics Dunce. This year, the winner is ESPN’s David Schoenfield, by virtue of a sentence near the end of a recent post in support of Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez, neither of whom are on the Performance Enhancing Drug suspicion list, as Hall of Fame candidates. Schoenfield wrote,

“The PED disagreements are all about emotion (“Cheaters!”) versus reason (“It was part of the game in that era, we don’t know who did what, etc.”).

Talk about a big, fat, hanging curveball over the heart of the plate!

1. Cheating is when participants in any merit-based competition get an unfair advantage by surreptitiously and intentionally breaking the rules. Calling such an individual a cheater is not emotional. It is an accurate diagnosis and a designation of wrongdoing.

2. Insisting that when the qualifications for eligibility for any honor or distinction specify “sportsmanship” and good character, the position that those who have cheated to achieve their status should be found unworthy of that honor is not emotional, but logical, and in fact, mandatory.

3. The position, therefore, that cheating is germane to Hall of Fame membership and that cheaters should not be so honored is not “all about emotion,’ but rather all about reason, fairness, values, ethics, and common sense.

4. What Schoenfield calls “reason” are, in fact, rationalizations, which are not reason at all, but lies motivated by non-ethical considerations, like bias, to justify irrational and unethical conclusions.

5. “It was part of the game in that era” is essentially the “everybody does it” argument, and it is both ethically wrong and factually untrue. Steroid use was common in the game, but it was not a legal part of the game (indeed it was not legal, period), and most players did not engage in it. If it was truly “part of the game,” it would not have been done secretly.

6. “We don’t know who did what” is another rationalization: because some players got away with it, it’s unfair to punish anyone. An inability to identify all wrongdoers doesn’t make it wrong to punish those that can be identified.  This is what Schoenfield calls “reason”? If the same principle were applied to the justice system, all criminals would go free.

7. “Etc.” means the other six or seven rationalizations employed by writers like Schoenfield every year. One of them is “Barry Bonds would have been a Hall of Famer if he hadn’t cheated, so why should he be penalized?”  Yes, and Richard Nixon beat McGovern in a landslide, so all those dirty tricks and illegal sabotage of the McGovern campaign shouldn’t be held against him. And Benedict Arnold was a war hero and patriot before he went over to the British…why should the bad make us ignore the good? Ah, reason. A brilliant student who cheats on an exam he would have aced anyway is still going to be expelled. Why? First, because it proves he’s not worthy of the institution. Second, it shows bad character. Third, it is necessary to discourage other cheaters. What’s the logic of any other approach: cheating is OK as long as its unnecessary? Cheating is only cheating if you’re mediocre?

That was a real gift from David—I’m grateful. Lots of his colleagues talk unethical nonsense about steroids, but I’ve never seen a statement before that literally calls reason emotion, and identifies the irrational as reason. No wonder he’s confused.

26 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: ESPN Blogger David Schoenfield

    • It was invented by two lovable slackers on a whim, while tossing a basketball outside their garage. Surprisingly it went on to become a national fad, drawing fans with its sexy cheerleaders and the novel idea of not only allowing but institutionalizing “taunts” as a means of distraction. No wait, that’s Baseketball.

        • Well, you wouldn’t be a “secret” Canadian if your comments could give you away; I just figured since this blog has been on the topic of insubstantial accusations lately… well, you can guess the rest.

          (Hilariously enough, I have a friend with political views similar to yours, and his family is Quebecois; even his surname gives it away).

  1. I take “part of the game” to mean that even if a tactic wasn’t sanctioned by official rules, it was taken as part of the spirit of the game by players, fans, game officials, and basically everyone relevant (not sure if that’s the case here, but it’s what he’s claiming). I really don’t like it when people let unwritten rules to take precedence over written ones, though. I see that as a bad habit. If “part of the game” rules are substantially better, in the style of house rules that are more fun, then they should simply change the official rules to match so people know what to expect on an official level. When the policies that an official body states and those it abides by are different, bad things happen. I consider that a cultural illness.

    • But it wasn’t “taken as part of the spirit of the game by players, fans, game officials, and basically everyone relevant,” and he knows it. That’s a great definition of what part of the game means. What he’s really talking about would be things like home plate collisions, which technically violate the rules, or the “phantom double play.” The former has now been banned, but nobosy is going to call the player who routinely engaged in the collisions “cheaters.” PED use was never like that. It was an underground activity that officials suspected but engaged in contrived ignorance to avoid dealing with.

      • So, do tell, what’s the “Phantom Double Play,” and does it have anything to do with all the “ghost runners” we put on base playing with only a couple of guys in the playground as kids?

        • The phantom double play is when a middle infielder, while turning a double play, catches the ball thrown from the other infielder off the second base bag to avoid being killed by the sliding runner, and throws to get the batter at first, never actually completing the force play (because he never touches the bag), but getting the out call anyway. The rationalization is that umpires should call the out if the fielder is “in the neighborhood” of second base, to prevent injuries. This tradition is expected to blow up with the addition of replay appeals next season.

          • Interesting, and reminds me of why I find football much more compelling as a sport. “To avoid being killed” is a silly reason to get credit for something 😀

    • It’s worse than a bad habit to let unwritten rules prevail. Written rules are accessible to everyone. Unwritten rules may not reach the attention of everyone. If there’s an unwritten rule that taking illegal drugs is mandatory, then people who don’t know the rule are at an unfair disadvantage.

      As you said with “so people know what to expect”, come to think of it.

  2. I agree with everything you said except that it wasn’t illegal by the rules of major league baseball. They had not yet made it against the rules.

  3. Jack, I think you are completely missing his point. He is not talking about letting known steroid users or even suspected steroid users into the Hall of Fame because “it was part of the game”. He is talking about the idiot sportswriters who are going to vote to not allow almost anybody who played in that era to get into the Hall of Fame because of other people who used steroids. Note the part of the “we don’t know who did what” part of his quote. I think that backs up my assertion here.

    He is advocating that Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez should make it into the HoF. And he thinks the anti-DH argument is just as silly as the argument by some sports writers that will not vote for anybody because of the steroid use.

    Of course, he is an idiot too. There are plenty of good arguments for Jack Morris being a Hall of Famer.

    • No, Morris isn’t a Hall of Famer, just a good pitcher for a long time who had one very famous game.

      Your interpretation might be persuasive if the first part of his argument didn’t include the dismissal of objecting to cheaters as “emotional.” The second part of the argument has to be taken in light of the the first part, which ridicules the idea that cheating should be disqualifying—then he goes on to argue that steroids weren’t really cheating.

      In the past, he has advocated Barry Bonds’ election to the Hall, which closes the issue. He’s a PED rationalizer.

      • I took his argument as the “cheating!” folks are being emotional because I have read many sports writers opinions that say that the entire era is tainted by the cheating and as such nobody (or most with a select few exceptions) should get in BECAUSE of the cheating that others did.

        I.E. I am taking the article as written in the context of what other sports writers rationalize when they give their no votes to people who played well and have no claims of steroid or other enhancement use levied against them.

        I have heard people rationalize Bonds to the HoF because his numbers pre-steroids (i.e. with the Pirates). I am not saying this is a good reason to let him in the hall. But to me, those people are not PED rationalizers but are saying that even if those numbers for the Giants are tainted, that the other numbers are not. I am not sure if that is a rationalization of PED use.

        • Bonds’ numbers pre-steroid numbers INCLUDE several years with the Giants. 1999-2004 seem to be the heart of his PED use. His numbers pre-PEDs include 3 MVPs, 400 HR and 400 SB, most of his GGs, and several .600+ SLG seasons.

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