There’s an old quote around D.C. – I don’t remember who said it, but it’s one of those things that travels frequently enough as to defy attribution – that refers to politics and political dialogue as ‘the blood sport of Washington.’
It refers to the fact that the things people – elected officials, aides, and press members – say often times works to destroy somebody with the intent to better their personal position in the District.
While going over the situation that broke with Ryan Braun, I wasn’t sure how I – how we as a press outfit – were going to handle it. Personally, I did what I always did – I went to work. I made calls, I sent out e-mails, I tried to contribute my efforts to our readers as a member of the press. The lack of statements and commentary should speak to how successful I was in those efforts. But I felt I owed it to my readers to give them the most thorough examination of the truth unfettered by my personal opinions and bias.
It dawned on me that perhaps I was not doing my job properly. Because maybe, at least when it comes to steroids and other peripheral business of sports journalism, that true journalism is not my job.
It’s the blood sport of baseball.
What I mean by that is exactly what all of those individuals in Washington meant – it’s not necessarily that they have an opinion on this issue, but more so that any opinion they have, when shouted loud enough, will help to elevate their position by destroying the position of someone else.
It’s an unfortunate cause, and one that is stopping more meaningful discussions in our society.
When a journalist – an award-winning journalist who has no problem calling himself a journalist opines on the radio that he believes Ryan Braun ‘got away with something’ and speaks to a legal proceeding of which he owns no expertise – he ceases to become a journalist in my opinion. He becomes a talking head, a caricature of the position he believes he holds.
When someone gets a source, I believe that he owes his readers the truth behind that source of information – specifically what changed, why it changed, and how it happened that Ryan Braun’s name ceased to be redacted on those papers. I do not want my breaking source of news instantly speculating on things that have little to no bearing on the process or information at hand.
He may have had that information. I don’t know – I don’t know because he didn’t tell me. That’s a dangerous position to be in, one that I would not want to be as a journalist. But nobody’s having that discussion.
That’s a problem to me, and it should be to anyone who thinks that the business of sports journalism ought to be a worthwhile endeavor. But this isn’t just sports journalism.
It’s a blood sport.
Steroids in sports is an important discussion because it gives us a platform on issues beyond sports. Sports writers have a tendency to make things about ‘more than a game’ – because without a soapbox outside of a box score it’s hard to justify our relevance in society. And in truth there is a relevance to our discussion outside of sports. It’s just that we’re not having it.
There are Constitutional questions surrounding drug testing at workplaces. There are legal questions around breaking confidential test results for the sake of making the five o’clock SportsCenter. There are ethical and moral issues around steroid use in general. There are questions unanswered around the negative side effects in the use of HGH, not to mention the fact that a doctor can prescribe me HGH, but not Ryan Braun. And that is completely discounting the extenuating circumstances around why athletes have to do the things they do to perform at a high level – some of which has to do with how the media relates to the sports they cover. These are important discussions to have.
But those are not discussions the important people in my field are having. That’s because we live in a world where being there first does count – it gets you the links, it gets you the ‘likes’, it gets you the retweets – it makes you the source of the debate and the discussion. Ask any of my Facebook friends how the new landscape of journalism works.
It’s not sexy in the sports world to take your time and to investigate. It’s not practical. It’s far better to take up some real estate on one of the fence so you can gather your base together. It’s not that it’s bad to wait until the details come forward, just that it’s better in this place and time to have an instantaneous reaction to the details you have. Because you aren’t on a beat, you’re in a blood sport.
And that’s unfortunate, because among the bodies in the wake of this practice are going to include a pile of ethics, journalistic practices, and a host of players who may or may not have done anything wrong in the first place.