Richard Sherman and Ryan Braun are professional athletes have share a commonality. The two performers apparently failed drug tests for taking illegal, performance enhancing drugs bur decided to appeal their mandatory league imposed suspensions. Both won their appeals and got back to work.
But here is where the commonality between Braun, the baseball player with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Sherman, the football player with the Seattle Seahawks, falls apart. Ryan Braun was given a scarlet letter by the keepers of the fables---the sportswriters----while Sherman goes on playing with scant notice from the self-proclaimed moralists in the newspaper's version of the toy store on the national level.
Both Braun and Sherman's advisors did not focus on the results of the drug tests. The advisors, instead, question of the procedure and how the urine sample was handled which is their right under provisions in both the baseball and football collective bargaining agreement. The moral gatekeepers never did believe Braun's story or the arbitrator's decision to clear Braun because of a breakdown in the way Braun's urine specimen was delivered to the laboratory for testing.
Sherman's test took place on September 17 and apparently there was a problem with the specimen cup which had a leak. That meant there was a need for a second cup. Sherman allegedly failed the drug test and appealed.
The NFL is living with the decision of the arbitrator. There seem to be no clamor of vitriol that the sports scribes are capable of heaping on a player who they believe cheated the system. After all, in the sports media world, no drug test is infallible.
Sherman is just one of 11 guys who plays on the defensive side of the ball for Seattle. But Ryan Braun was a very invisible and imposing force for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011.
Where is the venom and scorn for Sherman that was given to Braun by the national sports media? It seems that baseball players are excoriated for falling a drug test while football players, well not so much.
But then again look at the national sports media and how they act. Rob Parker, Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, the sportswriters’ daily Around the Horn show on ESPN. They hardly seem like professionals and in many cases, they aren't.
The fact that Ryan Braun won his appeal of a drug test has flipped out baseball writers who seemed to believe every drug test is foolproof and that it was impossible that Braun won. The arbitrator Shaim Das was slammed. Das agreed with the Braun camp. No one is taking issue that the confidentiality of the drug testing process was breached last fall when someone leaked out word that Braun had failed the test.
There were some in the sports media who seemed to have accepted that Braun won his case but most writers seem to fall in line with Major League Baseball that the Braun appeal win was an outrage and that the court of public opinion should be raining down scorn upon the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player.
Oh, who voted for the National League's Most Valuable Player? Selected baseball scribes who work for newspapers.
Conflict of interest? Certainly.
But in the world of the baseball writer, it is essential that the Baseball Writers Association of America continue as the gatekeepers of the sport.
Braun contended he is clean and something happened in the process. But the writers didn't believe him. Some writers went gone on sports talk radio shows and complained to sympatric fans, rather sports radio talk show hosts, that the process is flawed or that baseball needs to add additional arbitrators to judge drug testing.
One question that the hallowed scribes, who by the way in some cases are so important in their field that the Baseball Hall of Fame honors their work, should have asked is the one Johnny Carson used to ask in his television show before he got the Tonight Show.
"Who Do You Trust?"
Do you trust Ryan Braun who apparently tested clean throughout his career and in a subsequent test after the medical procedure (yes drug testing is a medical procedure and with it comes patient-doctor privacy assurances which are trampled upon by Major League Baseball and the sports media) or Major League Baseball and people like Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
Sure the sports media takes potshots at Selig for things like a tie in the All-Star Game, announcing the decision to cancel the 1994 playoffs and World Series after it became obvious that the Lords of the Diamond, the owners, and the players were not ready to settle the labor problem in September 1994. But for the most part, Bud Selig has been a good guy for the past half dozen years even though the scribes have not forgiven him for the so-called "steroids years." Selig has steered baseball through a financial renaissance and while the newspaper industry is dying, the scribes without jobs can always work for mlb.com or The MLB Network and remain connected to the game.
The writers think they are important. The writers with a Hall of Fame vote are aiding a private business, the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Cooperstown, New York-based shrine is an entity that depends on the writers to elect players to the Hall of Fame and needs players to be inducted to get fans to venture to Cooperstown in the middle of the summer to attend introduction ceremonies and drop much needed cash into the museum, Cooperstown and central New York State businesses and municipal coffers.
There should be an integrity issue here. How can someone report the news and interview players as part of subject matter for an honor like the Hall of Fame or baseball awards in general?
Sportswriters get to vote for the Hall of Fame and baseball awards while play-by-play men like Bob Costas, Vin Scully and others cannot because they were paid by Major League Baseball or a Major League Baseball team. Of course a good many older baseball writers did take money from teams by writing program pieces.
Never in the world of sports.
The writers, who take the game so seriously, seemingly are now making allegations that players who never failed a drug test in their careers must have taken steroids. There seems to be a perception of guilt instead of innocence but that is the sportswriters’ world today.
Mike Piazza had some acne on his back so clearly he must have been a user according to one time New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass who is no longer employed by the one-time greatest newspaper brand in the United States but one that is scuffling to remain relevant as the newspaper industry reels from staggering revenue decline.
The steroids issue is one of a number of blemishes on Selig's record, a record that is not really dissected by the baseball writers. Selig has been involved in collusion, a scripted industry lockout, taking loans from an owner Carl Pohlad in Minnesota, perhaps playing loose with facts in getting his Milwaukee Brewers a new stadium in lobbying the Wisconsin legislature in the 1990s.
Selig's record as the Milwaukee Brewers owner should be scrutinized. In 1988, the Players Association charged that the 26 owners got together and acted in collusion to depress salaries, a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
The case went before arbitrator Thomas Roberts, who agreed with the players. Eventually, the owners settled the grievance by agreeing to pay $280 million in damages to the players. Selig was one of the 26 owners who, to use a Bart Giamatti quote, stained the game.
In 1990, Major League Baseball owners locked out the players in yet another labor dispute. This one seems to have been scripted to the very day that the 1990 season opened. This reporter by accident sat with a baseball television sales rep at a boxing function at The Sign of the Dove restaurant in Manhattan in January 1990. The man was complaining that he could not sell "spot time" which was regional commercials for a number of Midwest baseball teams, until April 15 of that year because he was told that there would not be any games until that date. Major League Baseball planned to punish the players by opening spring training late and starting the season late.
In February 1990, on a late Friday afternoon at the Sheraton on Seventh Avenue between 53rd and 54th Street in Manhattan, Selig was giving his assessment of the owners-players negotiations to a fawning crowd of baseball writers. Midway through, this reporter asked the question that set Selig off. "Did you and the fellow owners tell TV salespeople not to sell scattered spot time for a number of Midwest baseball teams TV networks for spring training and gave the go ahead to sell time after April 15?"
Selig tuned a shade of crimson as a hush fell over the room. Those questions are never asked in an open room and should be discussed in quiet places. Selig quelled the angst by saying that TV salesman's theory was totally false.
The owners and players reached an agreement on March 19, 1990. Most of spring training was missed and the season opened on April 9 not April 2 as planned. The TV salesman was right; it was safe to sell spot TV ads after April 15. The timeline was off by six days.
In 1994, the players walked off the job. Selig, then the acting commissioner, cancelled the World Series and promised replacement baseball using minor leaguers and semi-pro players for the 1995 season. The players ended their strike on March 31, 1995 when Judge Sonia Sotomayer of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that the 28 ownership groups bargained in bad faith.
Roughly at the same time that Sotomayer came down with her ruling, Selig began to campaign for a new stadium for his Milwaukee Brewers. Selig lost his first go round when Wisconsin voters said no to a new ballpark, but he continued to lobby Madison legislators and eventually a new stadium bill was passed, with the bulk of the money for the facility coming from a sales tax hike in the five counties surrounding Milwaukee. Selig had pledged that the Brewers would be competitive with a new stadium and needed a new stadium to keep up with other teams.
Selig failed to rally Wisconsin voters to back his cause for a new stadium in 1995. The electorate overwhelmingly said no (64 percent to 36 percent) for a plan that called for an increase in the sales tax to pay for a new stadium.
The Wisconsin legislature could not believe the voters were so stupid and were unwilling to help Selig that they literally throw out the election result and came up with a plan to build a $250-million stadium.
In 1996, State Senator George Patek, a Republican, was recalled after he cast the deciding vote to go ahead with a Brewers stadium after the public said no. The plan was to raise a sales tax 1/10 of one percent in a five county area surrounding Milwaukee. Patek had said no to the Brewers stadium financing scheme and switched his vote. In June 1996, Patek was recalled and the Republicans lost control of the chamber.
Selig did get his new stadium.
Wisconsin legislators and residents were stunned in 2003 to read that the Brewers franchise, which was being run by Selig's daughter Wendy while he was Baseball commissioner, was cutting payroll and trading away the team's top moneymakers because the franchise was having financial woes. This news came only three years after the Brewers opened the new park.
Following the 2012 baseball season Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria jettisoned his top paid Marlins players after getting a new mostly public financed stadium at the site of the former Orange Bowl in the Little Havana area. The baseball scribes were never outraged that local Miami elected officials gave Loria copious amounts of money to build a state-of-the-art baseball facility but seemingly were critical of Loria trading away his top paid talent.
Failed drug tests and subsequent suspensions in the NFL are part of that business and the sportswriters seem to give the NFL a pass but not baseball. Where is the venom and scorn for Sherman? It is just not there.
Apparently baseball players are held to a higher integrity standard by the scribes and the talking heads and the radio carnies along with fans than football players.
Evan Weiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His e-book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition" is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com and another e-book, America's Passion: How a Coal Miner's Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century is available at www.smashwords.com