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.