James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ethics in Sports: P.R., Profits, and Wins

About a year ago, Manny Ramirez was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers. He lifted that then-mediocre club to the division title and NLCS. Before then, however, he was accused of some awful things by the Red Sox, particularly quitting on the team.

Bill Simmons, a Red Sox and Manny fan, cast some doubt on this. What I couldn't get over about Manny is that he shoved a traveling secretary to the ground after he was told his unreasonable request might not be fulfilled.

That seemed to be an underrated story, whereas the fact that Manny didn't run out ground balls seemed overrated to me. If Manny is a jerk, or "bad guy," it is demonstrated in how he treats the support staff.

And then Manny gets caught with a banned substance after MLB had instituted drug testing, demonstrating that he's a cheater, and is suspended for 50 games.

Yet he's cheered by Dodger fans.

Meanwhile, ESPN radio has reported that Henry Aaron is urging Pete Rose's reinstatement to baseball. Even though as a manager Rose would bet his own team, which compromised his judgment. After all, what is a manager, really, but a manager of relief pitchers? Betting on games could have clouded Rose's judgment to the detriment of the best long-term interests of the team. (The only thing more compromising, of course, would have been betting on the other team.)

Then again, he has been banished for twenty years. Perhaps reinstating him now would be a gracious act.

Meanwhile, Michael Vick has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL. Two years ago, the nation was horrified by revelations of dogfighting. Now, plenty are saying "What he did was horrible. He served his time and paid his debt, let him play!" Others are saying, "If I were convicted of a felony, I wouldn't be hired back. Why should Vick?" Team owners, however, fear the public relations and ticket implications of signing this guy, not sure if he's still a pariah.

Daunte Stallworth killed a man while driving drunk and got less than a month in jail. The New York District Attorney, meanwhile, is demanding prison time for Plaxico Burress, who accidentally shot himself in the leg. Should Stallworth ever play again? Will anyone sign Burress?

Terrell Owens was kicked off one team and released by another even though he could still play. Quarterback Jeff George was out of the NFL before the age of 35, even though he could still throw a beautiful long pass. As late as last year, at 41, he thought he could still play. Neither of them had scrapes with the law.

What do these stories have to do with each other? To me, they just go to show that a commissioner's decision to suspend or reinstate an athlete, or a GM's decision to sign or release an athlete, has little to do with judging the content of the player's character. One player may be embraced despite a conviction; another released solely because of personality clashes. It's not about the interests of any particular individual or what anyone "deserves," it's about the interests of the organization. For the League, suspending and reinstating players is about public relations and profits. For individual teams, it's about public relations, profits, and winning games.

This may seem cynical, but I actually believe that p.r., profits, and wins really are the only impartial, ethical assessments to determine a player's eligibility. If I'm a team owner and Michael Vick is available, I'd be asking my marketing and p.r. guys what they thought were the implications of signing him. Backlash and protest? Public embrace? Only then would I ask my GM and coaches what they thought about Vick as a player and teammate.

What if I say, "No, I can't stand what Vick did. He doesn't deserve a chance?" Or what if I say, "Vick got screwed; the dogs were his own property. I'm signing him as a way of giving the finger to the prohibitionists of the world?" Either way, I would be putting my own narrow perspective above the interests of the club. This is unethical because it is willfully stupid - foolish.

Sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. Sometimes there are just business decisions, all of which are calculated risks, and they can be judged only by the results.

1 comment:

  1. After the way Dodger fans treated Bonds and the Giants fans who kept cheering him...