Bob Costas’ recent stance in favor of gun control has drawn the ire of many. Jim Jividen examines why his remarks about performance-enhancing drugs didn’t provoke a similar response.
Gun control has become the new third rail; Bob Costas has been gliding through professional broadcasting since the 1970s and now he’s Hanoi Jane.
Two elements of this interest me: (1) you haven’t seen a major American sporting event since 9-11 that wasn’t a sloppy kiss to the military-industrial complex, so let’s hold off on the “stick to football” chatter. The only wall of separation between politics and sports that anyone ever wants is between sports and political views that you don’t hold and (2) Bob Costas always makes political statements. Costas has been on the front line of the declaration that union intransigence is largely to blame for the “steroid era” (which, he also argues, renders the accomplishments of the players suspected invalid) and that the legacy of Marvin Miller, who passed away a week prior to the murder-suicide that prompted Costas’s commentary, includes a labor/management hostility that harmed baseball and prevented union leadership from capitulating as quickly as should they have on drug testing.
That’s not perceived as political, arguing that a monopolistic employer in an entertainment industry should have the power to conduct suspicionless bodily searches of its labor force and that a union which would balk at that is excessively confrontational. It’s not perceived as political because it’s so ubiquitous – of course private employers should gather the urine (or blood – how can we find out about HGH without blood!) of their employees. Since 1987, the percentage of private sector employers engaging in drug testing is up 140%; it’s an area of what we previously thought of as private space, like employers requiring polygraphs or personality tests, that we’ve just ceded with very little fight to corporate power.
Your phone and computer use can be monitored; you can be told not to smoke when you’re in your own home; cameras can be installed in every corner of your workplace; you can be fired for what you read or for your Facebook posts; you can be, as we found out in the most recent election, told for whom you should vote if you’d like to remain employed.
Most of us don’t have union protection – the decline in union membership is (I’d more than gently suggest) causally related not only to the increased encroachment in personal space taken by private employers but to the thirty year stagnation in real wages of the working class and unprecedented upward redistribution of wealth and accompanying political influence. But baseball players do have a union, and because of Marvin Miller they had robust protection; too robust for the sports intelligentsia led by people like Bob Costas, who used Miller’s death to criticize the degree to which the baseball union acted as an impediment to drug testing.
No one noticed. I have no image to accompany the line “stick to baseball Bob – and leave our bodily fluids alone.” That’s because the political content of the pro drug test/anti union view offered in sports analysis is hidden in plain sight right along with the all of those Blue Angels flyovers. Costas drew heat for saying “gosh, there sure are a lot of guns in the US” because any statement outside of the most rabidly right wing view on gun ownership is now considered outside of mainstream political thought. The answer given by Democrats to the charge “Obama’s trying to take away our guns” has been “not in any way.” That answer’s true. It’s not going to save any lives, but it’s true.
Perhaps the value of drug testing those who operate nuclear power plants outweighs the loss of privacy enough to balance the equities in favor of that testing (although you’d probably still want union leadership to fight it, because if union leadership can’t put your interests first, then who will?) but determining if a ball hit 400 feet would have been hit 390 feet without the benefit of steroids probably doesn’t reach that level of national importance (and certainly shouldn’t for union officials elected by the membership to assert the very rights that they were asserting). The head of the Baseball Writers Association of America is Susan Slusser; her argument that PED users should not be in the Hall of Fame is that the ballot instructs voters to consider “integrity, sportsmanship, character” and that PED use would appear to be disqualifying. That’s the Costas approach as well: “When in doubt, keep them out.”
That’s doubt over steroids, and presumably human growth hormone – which are politically chosen to be the “bad” performance enhancers, as opposed to amphetamines, a litany of painkillers, stem cell injections, beta blockers and other neuroenhancers, Lasik, and a gaggle of lotions and potions that baseball players have been having applied to them since the 1800s. All of those, deliberately selected to enhance performance, are given the label “good” performance enhancers and therefore fine – you can shoot a guy up with an epidural on the on deck circle but rubbing “the cream or the clear” is enough to mean someone’s entire career effectively did not happen.
That seems a challenging distinction – but Slusser makes it:
There is something about hiding in a bathroom and injecting an illegal substance that alters body chemistry that seems so much more subversive and character warping. There is great secrecy and shame associated with steroid use, because it is so clearly wrong. Players know they are doing something dishonest and illegal. There was never, ever that sense with amphetamines.
Amphetamines, see, were illegal to take, and certainly enhanced performance, but it was done out in the open – so it’s fine. They could pop them right in the training room – they didn’t have to do them in a (shudder) bathroom stall. Politics isn’t politics if it’s in plain sight. Speed was out in the open, therefore it couldn’t have been wrong.
Consider the results of the statutory construction Slusser gives to the language of the character clause in the Hall of Fame ballot: even if we accept that the good PED/bad PED distinction, we’re left with the historical truth that confessed cheats like Gaylord Perry, known Klansmen and confessed murderers like Ty Cobb, and men such as Cap Anson who helped create the segregated framework that warped baseball statistics exponentially more than any drug ever taken are all in the Hall of Fame – but Barry Bonds won’t be, because he took a prescription drug without a prescription in the wrong part of the clubhouse. You want to encapsulate a hundred thirty years of major league baseball in 3 words: Segregation, Speed, Steroids – and it’s only a few names chosen to be tied to the last one whose careers are wiped out.
Finally, a thought I’ve yet to hear verbalized, meaning that it’s by definition unreasonable.
If we were to accept the sports analysts argument that we must consider “integrity, sportsmanship, character” when making out the Hall of Fame ballot – why doesn’t that ever work in someone’s favor? Where is the Slusser column that JT Snow, a mediocre ballplayer but a helluva good guy, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Who showed more character than Curt Flood – standing alone to challenge a system in which baseball players were chattel? If the character clause is really how we are judging the merits of who deserves Hall of Fame inclusion, as opposed to selecting the very best players who ever lived, then why is that not ever reflected in the voting in any way beyond sportswriters just enacting retribution or attempting to maintain professional relevance in a world that has passed them by?
Here are the picks.
So, I’m 94-83-2 ATS. First, the NFL picks. Then the bowls; you get (1) my outright winner for each game (2) you get those games that I’m picking against the spread–I think there are 13–and, in bold, you get how I would rank each game in a confidence pool.
Carolina +3 SD
Dall +2 Pittsburgh
Bears +3 GB
Saturday, December 15th
25 Arizona d. Nevada
24 Utah State d. Toledo
Thursday, December 20th
9 BYU d. San Diego State
Friday, December 21st
16 Central Florida d. Ball State
Saturday, December 22nd
23 Boise State d. Washington
30 Louisiana Lafayette -6, East Carolina
Monday, December 24th
33 Fresno State d. SMU
Wednesday, December 26th
22 Western Kentucky -5.5 Central Michigan
Thursday, December 27th
3 Baylor d. UCLA
34 Cincinnati -7 Duke
31 San Jose State -6 Bowling Green
Friday, December 28th
21 Louisiana Monroe d. Ohio
19 Rutgers +2.5 Virginia Tech
27 Texas Tech d. Minnesota
Saturday, December 29th
28 Arizona State d. Navy
5 Michigan State d. TCU
10 Oregon State d. Texas
6 Rice d. Air Force
12 Syracuse +4 West Virginia
Monday, December 31st
11 Iowa State +5 Tulsa
20 LSU d. Clemson
26 USC d. Georgia Tech
8 Vanderbilt d. North Carolina State
Tuesday, January 1st
13 Florida State d. Northern Illinois +13.5
17 Georgia d. Nebraska
29 Northwestern +2.5 Mississippi State
35 Oklahoma State d. Purdue
15 South Carolina d. Michigan
14 Stanford d. Wisconsin
Wednesday, January 2nd
32 Florida d. Louisville
Thursday, January 3rd
2 Kansas State +9.5 Oregon 23
Friday, January 4th
7 Oklahoma +4.5 Texas A&M
Saturday, January 5th
18 Pittsburgh +3.5 Mississippi
Sunday, January 6th
4 Kent State d. Arkansas State 24
Monday, January 7th
1 Notre Dame +10 Alabama