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I know this commentary on the topic is much behind the time, but it’s still important to note the similarities in how sportscasters and the general populace have reacted. Spygate, BALCO and the Tim Donaghy betting scandal all have a lot of similarities with a league having loose regulations to the point that people took advantage of it. I bet Gary Bettman is in his office trying to manufacture a scandal just to generate press for the NHL.
In the Spygate scandal, we had a team abusing the rules without the league noticing (or the league noticing and keeping mum) to gain a competitive advantage. The likely reason we even found out was because Jets coach Eric Mangini was a former Belichick understudy and knew what his boss was up to. However, I suspect other coaches were doing some Spygate tactics and did not want to expose him for fear of getting taken down in the process as well.
In the BALCO case, we had baseball clubs almost definitely ignoring the steroid distribution to and use of their players for the bettering of their club’s chances at winning a World Series. Steroids padded HR stats, which led to a growing number of crowds at stadiums. Steve Phillips is one GM (former Mets GM) we definitely know that did not discourage usage of performance enhancers. To add more to its importance, the main character of the BALCO case is now-tainted superstar Barry Bonds, who broke two different home run records.
Spygate: Jerry Porter cried for an asterisk to denote wins by the Patriots in games for which they spied on the opposition. That is to say he’s definite that the spying helped them win. I suppose one does need spying to tell that Matt Millen can’t construct a roster, right?
BALCO: Lots of sportswriters clamored for Barry Bonds’ numbers to be denoted by an asterisk. Heck, some people wanted any steroid user’s numbers followed by asterisks; even if it meant half the record book would look defaced. And of course we had Bud Selig’s half-hearted attempts to look interested in Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Aaron himself refused to attend, despite the hypocrisy of him being an amphetamine user. For all we know, he could’ve been aided by that.
Spygate: A congressional member called for an investigation of the tapes that the Patriots handed over to the NFL. Nevermind that the real reason Arlen Specter is calling for this investigations is that he receives campaign contributions from Comcast and is an Eagles fan. Surely, there is no conflict of interest there. And surely it’s more important to investigate the NFL than to investigate a former Attorney General for possibly involving politics in the dismissal of district attorneys.
BALCO/Steriods in Baseball: An actual report was done on the matter by a former congressional member and current member of the board of the Red Sox. We even had a congressional hearing to investigate the supposed usage of steroids by “American Hero” Roger Clemens. That hearing was a massive waste of time that told no one anything except Roger Clemens has a bad lawyer and probably lied about not attending a party at Jose Canseco’s house. All that isn’t enough for Congress to even use to satisfy their appetite to finger someone on the mess.
What we see here is that sports scandals often prompt very similar and silly reactions. With the money involved in sports today, people are always going to look for a way to get ahead. Talk of asterisks is silly because the environment of sports are always changing. In baseball we’ve moved to 162 games, 30 teams and interleague play, among other things, since the game started. Now we have closers and more specialization of roles. The ball has changed, the bat technology has improved and the mounds have been lowered. Talent comes from all around the world, not just white, American males. To say that Bonds deserves an asterisk for what he did is to also suggest that the 98 Yankees and the 2001 Mariners do as well, since their seasons were 162 games or longer, while in the 1940s teams played 154 games. Or perhaps teams during World War II should receive asterisks since players served in the armed forces.
And in the NFL we’ve had expansion to 32 teams, the installment of Matt Millen as the general manager of the Lions, a move to 16 games from 14 and changes to playoffs system and more. Perhaps we should put an asterisk on a game if one player oversleeps, or another’s wife has a birth so he can’t practice beforehand.
As you can see, an asterisk is an absurd reaction to controversy. Furthermore, it only serves to highlight what was accomplished more than if you leave it alone and let the accomplishment be outshined by something else (say A-Rod possibly breaking Bonds’ record). As for Congressional oversight, it is sometimes welcome, given the fact that the leagues are monopolies that are permitted by Congress; however, in these two cases, I feel like there are more pressing issues for our elected officials to be dealing with.
So to my “reader(s),” I’ll say this: It’s important that professional sports leagues learn from mistakes and avoid replicating them. Is it awful that Spygate happened? Yes. But many of the outcomes would not have been drastically different, given the talent of the players involved. Should the Patriots have been fined in a harsher manner? Probably. But once the consequences have been felt, let’s not draw anymore attention to it, and let’s move on for the better of the game. If it really is a problem, fans should speak with their wallets. That’s the best way to make an impact when unhappy with the direction of a sport/team.