In The Baseball Dead Of Winter, An Old And Unresolved Ethics Problem Glows Bright

From left to right: MLB, players, and the union.

…as Major League Baseball ignores it, as usual.

Ethics alarms test: Scott Boras, lawyer and player agent, represents two Washington Nationals free agents in their prime. One is Stephen Strasburg, one of the best and most sought after starting pitchers in the game. He was seeking, on the advice of his agent, a long-term contract of more than 30 million dollars a year. Another is Anthony Rendon, third-baseman, and the Nationals’ best player in 2019, their championship year. He also is seeking a salary of at least 30 million per year, over many years. He is a fan favorite in Washington, D.C., and obviously enjoys playing there. Contrary to popular belief, however, Major League baseball teams do not have endless supplies of money, though they have a lot. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals general manager, told the sports media and Washington fans that the team could not afford to sign both Strasberg and Rendon at the rates they were demanding and the marketplace dictated.

Is there a problem, and if so, what is it?

You shouldn’t need much time to answer, but then again, thousands of baseball sportswriters and the entire baseball establishment havn’t figured this out over many years, do I’ll give you a “Jeopardy!” period of reflection:

OK, contestants,what’s your answer? Continue reading

Cheerleader Ethics: Nice Cheerleaders Don’t Say “Fuck,” But They Have A Right To Say It When They Aren’t Cheerleading

cheerleaders

Well, this in encouraging. Another court has slapped down a school’s attempt to punish a student for what she wrote online in a personal social media  account. Ethics Alarms has protested the abuse of authority this increasingly common practice represents for many years—I don’t have the time right now to track all the posts down, but I will, and add a link to them here.

U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled that the Mahanoy Area School District (In Pennsylvania) violated a student’s First Amendment rights when it kicked her off the junior varsity squad for writing “fuck” repeatedly in a Snapchat post. Do you use that mouth to cheer with, honey?

The teen made the vulgar post on a weekend in May, 2017, off school grounds. It pictured her and a friend holding up their middle fingers with the cogent text, “fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” She was dressed in street clothes, not her cheerleading uniform, with no pom-pons.  I don’t know how schools got the idea that they could control every aspect of a student’s life and speech to this extent, but too many try. And too many get away with it. Continue reading

Once Again, Baseball Agent Conflicts Are Hurting Players Who Don’t Understand Why

Baseball writers are the tools of baseball player agents, useful idiots who write on and on about the underpaid millionaire players and the unfair owners, who won’t pay them what they “deserve.” They scrupulously avoid educating readers about the unethical player agents who manipulate the system and the players for their own benefit, not their clients.  I have written about the unregulated and largely ethics-free baseball agents before, but their conduct this off-season is unusually revolting.

At the top of the list, as usual, is mega-agent Scott Boras, who cleverly treads the line between being an agent and a lawyer—he is both—while having too many stars under his thumb for the sports organizations or bar associations to hold him to account. For example, as a lawyer, Boras would be absolutely bound to tell his clients about a settlement offer, and would be subject to disbarment if he rejected an offer without communicating it to his client (you know, like you regularly see lawyers doing on TV and in the movies). However, there are no player agent rules that require an agent to communicate a team’s salary offer to a player. Agents can, and presumably do, reject offers without their clients ever hearing about them. This, of course, avoids the problem of a baseball star saying, “Oh, hell, that’s more money than I could ever spend anyway. I know it’s less than we talked about, but go ahead and take it.”

Agents have conflicts of interest so grand, and apparently so little understood, that meaningful consent from the client, theoretically the remedy, is virtually impossible. Let’s look at Bryce Harper, Boras’s client who is seeking more than $300 million dollars over a ten year guaranteed contract. Harper is 26 years old and has already made 49 million dollars, not counting endorsements. The functional utility of each dollar he earns is less than the one earned before in his situation. Realistically, there is very little difference between a $250,000,000 contract and a $300,000,000 contract to Harper, except from an ego perspective. The extra 50,000,000 won’t make any difference to him. Boras, however, is a different matter. Let’s say his cut of Harper’s salary is 5%.  He’ll get 15,000,000 if Harper signs for the high figure, but “only” 12,500,000 if Harper agrees to the lower figure. $2.5 million means nothing to Harper: he could throw it down the toilet, and wouldn’t feel a thing. The difference to Boras, however, is much greater in practical, and add to that the marketing advantage of being able to tell potential clients that he set the new all-time record for a free agent contract for his client. Continue reading

Announcing Two New Rationalizations: #24 “It’s My Right!” and #36 A. “You Were Warned”

yield_right_of_way_

The discussions on two recent posts revealed more holes in the Ethics Alarms Unethical Rationalizations List, and these two new additions fill them. I know there are more. #24 will take the place of the current #24, “The Free Speech Confusion,” which is now 24 A. It is properly a sub-rationalization of the new #24. #36 A is a new sub-category of #36, Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.” Continue reading

Ethics Hero: HBO Comic Bill Maher

at_the_end_of_the_world

Yes, you read that right.

Soon dogs and cats will be sleeping together, the world will stop spinning on its axis, and there will be snowball fights in Hell. It is the end of the world.

On the latest installment “Real Time with Bill Maher, “HBO’s weekly conservative/ Republican bash-fest, Maher, whom his progressive guests trust  implicitly to be of a like mind, read a quote that the posted graphic  identified as issuing from Rep. Paul Ryan. The 2012 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate had been slammed earlier in the week for “racially coded” comments about the need to change the culture in the inner city. Here is the quote:

“When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. They’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”

Then Bill let his guests take turns criticizing Ryan for blaming black Americans for problems over whichthey had no control, while sole conservative guest (Bill only allows one token punching bag from the right per show) Rick Lazio was mocked and laughed at by the studio audience for defending Ryan’s point. Finally, after letting everyone hang themselves, Maher revealed that the real speaker was…. Michelle Obama.

As Ralph Cramden…that is, the Great One, Jackie Gleason, used to say,

Thank you, Bill!

He was the perfect one to pull this revealing and damning stunt, being a reliable race-baiter himself (on an earlier show, Maher countered Bill Kristol’s challenge to the liberal cant that Republican opposition to President Obama is based on racial bias by asserting that he “absolutely” believed that.) But Bill isn’t above tricking and embarrassing his loyal allies and toadying audience for publicity and to pose as a truth-teller so his future deceptions, slanders and lies have more credibility. One can do the right thing, and a very beneficial thing, for unethical reasons, and I am absolutely certain that the despicable, amoral, cynical and vicious “comic” had nothing but base motives for this stunt. In fact, tricking invited guests who trust him into exposing their own bias was despicable, terrible host etiquette, and dishonest, but then Bill’s show is something of an ethics-free zone anyway. Anyone, right or left, who enables Maher by appearing on his show has waived the right to have my sympathy. In another case, I might argue that the end doesn’t justify the means, but anyone who voluntarily agrees to keep Maher’s show on the air deserves what he or she gets. This is the Scorpion and the Frog at its clearest.

Continue reading

Governor Cuomo’s Selective Anti-Gun Fervor: And This Is Why So Many Americans Have No Respect for Laws Or Lawmakers

Guns are a public menace! We must not permit lawless, reckless gun possession! Unless its a member of my staff, of course, in which case, meh, no biggie.

“Guns are a public menace! We must not permit lawless, reckless gun possession! Unless it’s a member of my staff, of course, in which case, meh, no biggie.”

[UPDATE: Jerome Hauer disputes some of the reported facts in this post. I have yet to find any sources that have different facts, but I will revisit both the story and my conclusions, and make appropriate revisions, retractions, or clarifications if and when warranted. You will find Mr. Hauer’s comment, and my reply to him, below.]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been the source of some of the most excessive anti-gun rants making up the sorry legacy of the Post Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck. It was a year ago that a unveiled a package of strict gun restrictions, saying that with “the senseless massacre in Newtown, Connecticut… New York must say enough is enough to gun violence.” Oh, Gov. Cuomo hates guns, believe you me.

So what do you think happened when it was revealed that Jerome Hauer, Cuomo’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner appointed in 2011, had not only been carrying a handgun to work ever since, but also, incredibly, took out the gun and used the laser sighting device attached to the barrel as a pointer in a presentation to a Swedish delegation on Oct. 24? Hauer was not only breaking the Cuomo-backed law barring state employees from packing a weapon at their workplace, but also was modeling the kind of ignorant and dangerous firearm misuse that undermines any claim that he was a safe, responsible, well-trained gun owner.

What happened appears to be this: as soon as the Governor got word that Hauer’s illegal and reckless conduct was about to be revealed in the press, the Homeland Security chief received a quick waiver from New York’s Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito. The waiver, of course, could not make his prior conduct legal. Continue reading

The Unforgivable Conflict of Interest: Sports Agents, Robbing Their Ignorant Clients

The ethical course is to choose.

The ethical course is to choose.

Sports agents are rich, powerful, and ethically handicapped by inherent conflicts of interest. The first two qualities so far have insulated them from dealing fairly and openly with the second. This is wrong, and has got to stop. For it to stop, it would help if the players, their unions, the sports leagues and the sports media didn’t either intentionally pretend not to see the obvious, or weren’t too biased and ignorant to realize what’s going on.

Four years ago, I wrote about this problem in a long piece for Hardball Times, a baseball wonk blog of consistent high quality.  The specific agent I was writing about was Scott Boras, the king of baseball player agents, but the egregious conflict I flagged isn’t confined to that professional sport; it’s present in all of them. In the article, I argued that Boras, a lawyer, is engaged in the practice of law when serving as an agent and was therefore violating the legal ethics rules, which prohibits having clients whose interests are directly adverse to each other, specifically in the so-called “Zero-Sum Conflict” situation.

A lawyer can’t assist two clients bidding for the same contract, because the better job he does for one, the worse his other client fares. A lawyer can’t sue a defendant for every penny that defendant has on behalf of one client when he or she has another client or two that have grievances against that same defendant—if the lawyer is successful with the first client, he’s just ruined his other clients’ chances of recovery. There is some controversy over whether the legal ethics rules automatically apply to a lawyer-agent like Boras, but never mind—whether he is subject to the legal ethics rules or not when serving as an agent, the conflict of interest he is blithely ignoring still applies, still harms his clients, still puts money in his pockets, and still should not be permitted. Continue reading

Question: Why Is Supporting The Use Of Children As Soldiers Better Than Using Torture In Interrogations?

child-soldier5

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 requires the United States to withhold any form of aid from nations that use children in their armies, a clear human rights violation.  President Obama  waived the provision in 2010, as Samantha Power, then the National Security Council senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, assured the media and the nation  that “the waivers would not become a recurring event.” By the terms of the law, the President has to notify Congress that he is waiving it within 45 days of making the decision. Monday afternoon, with Congress on the eve of a government shutdown and knowing that any such announcement would be largely ignored by the public and the press, the White House press announced yet another waiver of the law The new Child Soldiers Prevention Act waiver applies fully to Chad, South Sudan and Yemen. Congo and Somalia received partial waivers.

Here’s the text of the Presidential determination, signed by Mr. Obama: Continue reading

Rationalization # 35: Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”

"Yup, should have seen THIS coming..."

“Yup, should have seen THIS coming…”

Mark Draughn, who blogs at Windypundit, proposed this latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list,  after I forgot to add it to the list in December 2012, when it was first proposed by reader Dwayne Zechman. It is an excellent one, and both Dwayne and Mark deserve the credit for it.

Asserting the rationalization of Victim Blindness attempts to shift responsibility for wrongdoing to the victims of it, who, the theory goes, should have known that their actions would inspire the conduct that caused them harm, and thus they should have either avoided doing what sparked the unethical response, or by not doing so waived their right to object to it. This is closely related to a sub-category of #7, The Tit-For-Tat Excuse, which holds that one party’s unethical conduct justifies similar unethical conduct in return. The sub-category is “They asked for it.” Victim Blindness is similar, but it applies even greater responsibility to victims: whether they asked for it or not, they should have known their actions would be met with this unethical response, and their ignorance,  carelessness or stupidity constitutes a waiver of ethics. Continue reading

More Graduation Ethics: The Cap And The Feather

eagle feather

In contrast to the Roy Costner saga, we have the graduation conduct of Chelsey Ramer, proud member Poarch Creek Band of Indians and a graduating senior at  Escambia Academy High School in Atmore, Alabama. Four years ago, graduating members of her tribe had worn ceremonial eagle feathers in their caps at the school’s graduation procession and the handing out of  diplomas. The school tool no action then, because it was taken by surprise, but this year, Chelsey’s class was presented with new dress code, as well as a contract seniors had to sign in order to participate in graduation ceremonies.

It forbade any “extraneous items during graduation exercises.” It also said students violating the agreement would not receive their diplomas until appropriate disciplinary actions were taken and students paid a whopping $1,000 fine.

Chelsey says she refused to sign the contract.  She decided that honoring her heritage with an eagle feather on her cap was worth whatever consequences that resulted. She wore the feather, and now the school is demanding that she pay the thousand dollar fine to receive her transcripts and diploma.

Ethics findings: Continue reading