As our elected officials in the U.S. Congress spent precious time interrogating Major League Baseball administrators and union representatives earlier this week, most fans probably did exactly what I did....tune out as much of it as possible. Frankly, I'm tired.
By now, for me anyways, it hurts. From players either ridiculously defending themselves (see Roger Clemens or David Justice) or admitting a limited wrongdoing (see Fernando Vina/Andy Pettite), it is too much to bear. And though it won't go away, I wish that it would.
However, as all of this unfolded over the past month I started to think about how several of the accused steroid users, in the Mitchell Report and beyond, currently held prominent jobs in media. Three decades ago, Howard Cosell warned the future journalists of the world about a 'jockocracy' occurring in sports broadcasting. Retired (washed-up?) athletes using their fame and knowledge, in that order, to gain entry into high-level analysis and commentary jobs across the radio and television mediums. Former stars on the field seeking easy money in the booth.
Cosell was right, and now we're seeing how dangerous putting ex-athletes into the broadcast field can really be. Why do I think this trend has become dangerous? Because first and foremost, they are supposed to be objective observers providing thought-provoking insight. But they have too much to lose now...and these accused cheaters have a platform to defend themselves which they don't deserve.
Looking over those listed in the Mitchell Report, there are four former players that currently hold positions in the media. (Though many players accused of doping in the report are or were active contributors on a local market setting.)
*Lenny Dykstra, the former tobacco-spitting superstar of Mets and Phillies fame, runs a business news website revolving around trends and info on the stock market. Dykstra is also an occasional contributor to Fox News' program, 'The Cost of Freedom.' But Dykstra's connection with steroids has been in the public eye for quite some time. And while he is indeed a sought-out media figure, he generally isn't discussing the game of baseball. But certainly, his fame from the game has led directly to his business success.
*Matt Williams, the gregarious third baseman who made his name during his time with the Giants and Diamondbacks, admitted to taking human growth hormones (HGH) while rehabbing in 2002. However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Williams also purchased several steroids in May of that year. Williams is now an ownership partner with the D-backs and part of the squad's broadcast team, serving as a color analyst. He is a 'face' for Diamondbacks baseball at every level...they even named a baseball field after him in Show Low, AZ.
*David Justice, who may be more popular for his marriages to Halle Berry and Rebecca Villalobos, has been all over the media world since retiring in 2002. Justice has worked for ESPN and the Yankees YES Network, where he was serving as a game and studio analyst. After the Mitchell Report went public, Justice was quick to go public and vehemently denied ever taking HGH as a Yankee. He was linked in the report to Brian McNamee, Clemens' trainer and confidant, and former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Justice has since claimed that he never used the HGH McNamee provided him and that he never dealt with Radomski. This morning, the NY Times reported that Justice lost his studio gig with YES, but will be retained as a columnist. However, both the network and Justice say this demotion (and that's what it is) had nothing to do with the Mitchell Report. Instead it was so that Justice could assist his wife in rebuilding their home which was lost in the San Diego wildfires. Nice story. I'm not buying it.
*Perhaps the most significant player/media member listed is current ESPN analyst Fernando Vina. Vina is significant, not because of his average major league career, but because of his current role as a contributor on the world's leading sports network. When the Mitchell Report came out on December 13th, Vina was mysteriously absent from his network's wall-to-wall coverage of the investigation. Four days later, he resurfaced and admitted using HGH...but not steroids. Vina admitted to being 'embarrassed' and denounced using HGH saying, "it didn't help either." Are we supposed to give him the benefit of the doubt or sympathize with his cause? Unlikely. ESPN gave him a break by not putting him on the 'frontlines' the day the report was released. Vina is paid to cover the hard stories, not hide from them.
But Vina isn't the only ESPN personality linked to steroid use. Mike Golic, the current co-star of ESPN's hottest radio show "Mike and Mike in the Morning," recently admitted using steroids during his days in the NFL. And he did so in passing on their program; here's an unofficial link to the show's transcript. To his credit, Golic discussed the reasoning and stupidity behind his decision at length on-air over the following week. But his admission was brushed over initially and was almost cynical in nature. While he noted that it was wrong and dumb, he did so with a defensive air. Like he was saying, 'Big deal...it's over now. Lots of guys did it...' Golic was never reprimanded by the network and the programs went on as scheduled. And, perhaps because he's former NFL not MLB, Golic's steroid admission barely made a blip on the national media's radar.
Some of you may be reading this and saying, "So what?" But, as members of the media, these former players should be held to the same standards that journalists would have to face. These accusations/admissions show that these men cheated during their playing days. Isn't that akin to a writer plagiarizing? Both are forms of cheating designed to make performing easier...to give one person an unfair advantage over another. If a journalist 'cheated' to do their job, wouldn't the penalty be swift? Why aren't these ex-athletes being held accountable as well?
Marion Jones is going to jail for six months, partly for lying to federal investigators about her use of performance-enhancing drugs. All of these men should have to face the same questions...and if they lie, the same consequences.
The major sports media companies should take notice. Be wary of hiring ex-jocks to give your product an easy boost. Yes, these former athletes and coaches may provide intriguing commentary. Analysts like Tom Jackson, Carolyn Peck, Charles Barkley (the ultimate love/hate ex-jock), Howie Long, Mark May, Ron Jaworski, Steve Young, Marcellus Wiley and Greg Anthony have proven that.
But on the other hand, several members of the 'jockocracy' give broadcasting a bad name...Emmitt Smith, Vina, Keyshawn Johnson, Bill Walton (sorry Bill), John Barry, Dee Brown, Michael Irvin, Swin Cash, Mike Ditka (yes Ditka), Jalen Rose, Paul Silas, and Mark Malone just to name a 'few' of the undistinguished we've seen analyzing sports on TV or on radio. What are they adding to the broadcast? What does Emmitt say that a trained reporter couldn't say better? Want an example?
The ESPNs, Fox/NBC/CBS Sports groups of the world should recognize that placing former athletes on-air does in fact bring a heightened amount of recognition to viewers but is it worth the financial risk? Training these ex-jocks to smile for the cameras and spit out carbon-copy analysis...only to have them potentially be exposed as cheaters down the line.
Hold these former steroid abusers accountable, just as you would a journalist who cheated at their craft. Make them answer for their mistakes in the public forum which you have provided for them. Otherwise, what example are you setting?
Do the right thing. And do it now.