Friday, February 08, 2013

A General Sense of Disbelief

Cheating and lying, or even just wrongdoing and deception, have gone hand-in-hand for the entirety of human history.

But so too have witch hunts based on hearsay existed for eternity, with myriad lives ruined by untrue innuendo.

So especially in regards to matters that haven’t acutely affected my life, I have generally tried to give people the benefit of the doubt until it’s been proven that I shouldn’t. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been wary or skeptical about certain individuals, but I also must admit to a certain amount of choosing to ignore the likelihood of unproven impropriety.

For instance, I liked when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire reinvigorated baseball by chasing and surpassing Roger Maris’ season home run record in 1998. Perhaps it should have dawned on—and conflicted—me that not just the baseballs were juiced, but I can’t deny I cheered heartily for Sosa’s many mighty blasts during that season and others (to remind, Sosa hit 292 home runs over 5 seasons from 1998-2002).

And while Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France seven straight years was similarly unprecedented—and among some, disbelieved for its purported purity—I admittedly cheered on Armstrong's dominance in the world’s most arduous sporting event after his overcoming cancer that could well have been deadly.

Even now, after Lance has acknowledged being a longtime cheat, and quite a bullying one at that, I can’t work up all that much vitriol for him. Sure, he’s scum, but I really don’t care if he’s forced to give up his yellow jerseys and all his money, or not. Plus, not that I accept the "everyone else is doing it" excuse for wrongdoing, particularly in terms of banned PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs), but it's not outlandish to assume that if Lance didn't dope and didn't therefore win any or all of his Tours, another cheater would have.

Sosa also remains an enigma to my sense of justice as despite plenty of circumstantial indications that he used PEDs of some kind (steroids, testosterone, human growth hormone etc.), he never flunked a drug test and baseball’s ban on PEDs during his heyday was ambiguous at best.

Like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and McGwire, Sosa was—by a wide margin—not voted for Hall of Fame induction this year despite clearly having meritorious stats, but unlike the others, there was no explicit evidence voters could cite against him. While I don’t think the writers who voted against Sammy were wrong, I see judgment based on unproven suspicion as a slippery slope.

I mean, why should Hall of Fame voters or anyone else presume that anybody is clean. (To be fair to the BBWA, perhaps they didn’t, as no one was elected to the Hall this year.)

Call me Holden Caulfield if you must, and blame Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Ray Lewis and many, many others, but I can’t help but think that everyone in athletics and— hyperbolically—beyond is phony (or worse) until proven otherwise.

While this includes someone like Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder who I would prefer to be “clean” not only because he is a great young player but half-Jewish, it extends to people for whom PEDs is not the issue, but rather, false public personas (e.g. Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno, Manti Te’o, Notre Dame University, and their ilk).

Braun avoided a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone in 2011 due to winning an appeal on a chain-of-custody technicality regarding his “positive” urine sample, but in my mind he didn’t erase doubts after initially proclaiming “I’m innocent!” and that he wanted to hold a press conference to give details of the entire situation. Now he’s connected with a Miami firm called Biogenesis (led by Anthony Bosch), which is suspected of providing PEDs to athletes, including several with University of Miami ties. (Initial Biogenesis story by Miami New Times; report of Braun's involvement, by Yahoo!Sports)

Braun doesn’t deny that he was listed as owing money to Bosch in the same black book that includes two of his U of Miami teammates (one who was a roommate), but released this statement:

"During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant. More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.

"There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch's work, which is what my lawyer and I listed under 'moneys owed' and not on any other list.

"I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch.

"I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter."

This may sound somewhat plausible at face value, but as Sports Illustrated baseball columnist Tom Verducci noted in a well-reasoned piece:
“If you accept Braun's explanation, when he was in his darkest hour -- fighting MLB on a positive drug test -- to gather expertise he went to someone who not only is not a doctor and not licensed to practice medicine, not considered to have expertise in chain of custody issues, but who also had been connected by MLB and the DEA, and known to the players association, to the 2009 bust of Manny Ramirez; it was Bosch's father, Dr. Pedro Bosch, who wrote a prescription for a banned substance to Ramirez.

“This latest report continues to expose the main vein in the Bosch story: the University of Miami, where the baseball stadium, named for Alex Rodriguez, sits across from the former clinic, Biogenesis. Braun, Valencia and Tigers pitcher Cesar Carrillo, named last week by the New Times, played together at Miami. Hurricanes trainer Jimmy Goins also was named by the New Times, as was Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal, a former Hurricane. Rodriguez, whose sizeable donation to the program led to his name on the stadium, has been known to train at Miami.”
I think you can understand why the benefit of my doubt is eroding, in the case of Ryan Braun and, consequentially, well-beyond.

No, I don’t believe every major league baseball player is taking banned PEDs—or at least I don’t want to—but the only thing that seems entirely true is that every athlete who has been revealed to be dirty, from McGwire and Palmeiro, to Armstrong and Marion Jones, etc., etc., had previously insisted that they were completely clean.

Clearly, if you’re going to cheat, you might as well lie. But the cheaters are not only corrupting sports, they’re doing a bigger disservice to anyone who might be playing fair and square.

Because it's gotten a whole lot harder to give anyone the benefit of my doubt anymore.

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