Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Depends on What the Meaning of "Take" Is

Rafael Palmeiro, it turns out, is dirty. The best piece I've seen about Palmeiro's steroid use comes from Tom Boswell:
Palmeiro has been caught, suspended and has actually admitted to using steroids this season. Palmeiro simply claims that he has no idea how they got in his body.

Abducted by aliens? Sat too close to Canseco at the hearing? Got a package in the mail that was intended for Jason Giambi?

Add Palmeiro to the list of those who did not "knowingly" cheat. Just 17 days ago, he was being celebrated for his 3,000th hit. Now, in one day, he's the tag line to every cynical wisecrack. The quip circulating among writers who vote on the Hall of Fame is that, someday, Palmeiro may be left out of Cooperstown, but not "knowingly," just by collective accident. . . .

Palmeiro and his agent, as well as the Orioles, repeated many times that they could not go into details about Palmeiro's steroid blunder because of some "confidentiality" issues. "I would love to tell what happened to me so that everyone would understand," said Palmeiro, "but under this confidentiality agreement, I cannot get specific."

Unfortunately, what we may have here is a Stupidity Test. As in: How stupid are we? Whose "confidentiality" is being protected? Palmeiro's, of course. If he wanted to explain more, who could stop him from defending his good name? The union and baseball have a confidentiality agreement that prevents them from releasing information. But that doesn't put masking tape over the player's mouth. If Palmeiro had a compelling story, who could force him to stay silent? . . .

For two years our sports culture, right up to Congress, has been building a huge Steroid Trap, just waiting for a famous star to get caught inside. Somebody was going to get nailed, become the symbol and carry the weight. All the more fitting if the culprit was a shocker, perhaps somebody who shook his finger in the face of Congress and demanded his right to the benefit of the doubt. Too bad it turned out to be Rafael Palmeiro. It could have been so many bigger rats.

Boswell takes a very nice line between total indignation and sympathy, not an easy course to chart.

What has surprised me most during the steroid hunt is the ease and facility with which many players lie. Sure, Barry Bonds has never been particularly convincing, but if you go back and look at the tape of Jason Giambi and Palmeiro's denials, they are accomplished, forceful liars. I might argue that this gift for lying about a big and important issue is more worrisome than the weakness of having used steroids.

I don't have many illusions about professional athletes. We all know that many of them are jerks. But I would have liked to believe, at least, that they were big, proud, manly jerks.

Using steroids makes a ballplayer a cheater. Lying like a common politician makes him small and contemptible.

1 comment:

arrScott said...

Interesting point about good and bad liars. Bill Clinton, to his credit, was a terrible liar. I have yet to meet an American who can look me in the eye and tell me that he really believed Clinton when he said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman." George W. Bush, on the other hand, is an accomplished and easy liar. (Witness his casual claims that spending was down in his budgets compared with Clinton's or that he barely knew Ken Lay.) Better a politician like Paul Wellstone who never fibs, but better a bad liar like Clinton than a good one like Bush. (To the extent that integrity is important in a leader, anyway. Few of us, after all, would choose a straightforward president like Carter over the dissembling Frankling Roosevelt. Honesty isn't everything.)

As to the athletes, I don't see how lying about their cheating makes them any worse than just being cheaters. Cheating is a form of dishonesty. Cheating is to action what lying is to speech. Breaking the rules to give yourself an unfair advantage and then volunteering the truth of your actions to anyone who asks is not "cheating," it's "turning yourself in." To the extent that posing as an anti-steroids crusader cloaks your steroid use, then the hypocrisy is an inherent part of the action of cheating. As such, condemning Raffy for lying about his cheating is like watching a man shoot his neighbor to death and complaining that he's a suspiciously good marksman.

What boggles me is Palmeiro's statements that 1) He has no idea how steroids got into his system and 2) He hopes kids will learn from his mistakes and not do what he did. But Raffy says he did nothing wrong! What is he saying? "Kids, be smart and don't do nothing wrong."

And does allowing Raffy to promote performance-enhancing drugs or a different type now seem a bit like allowing Pete Rose to endorse offtrack betting parlors? Perhaps baseball needs to look at drugs like it looks at gambling and say that no involvement is ever OK. This means you, too, Nolan Ryan.