Biogenesis has become the latest scarlet letter in Major League Baseball. Like BALCO before it, simply being mentioned in the same sentence has become the equivalent of a conviction. However, this guilt by association is without due process.
Unlike BALCO, which became a household name only after federal authorities raided the Bay Area lab, criminal charges have not been filed against Biogenesis or its controversial head, Anthony Bosch. And, although Bosch had been the subject of a DEA investigation, it’s important to note that Biogenesis was not raided, nor was it closed because of government intervention. Biogenesis simply went out of business.
At this point, it doesn’t matter that BALCO and Biogenesis are really miles apart, not only in geographical proximity, but also corroborated wrong doing. By immediately christening the clinic as the “East Coast Balco”, the media has essentially served as judge and jury, and then proceeded to convict several players in the court of public opinion. In the Miami NewTimes, Alex Rodriguez was the headliner who attracted most of the attention, but Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez and Yasmani Grandal were named as well. Then, Yahoo! Sports jumped into the fray, naming Ryan Braun (another sexy name), Francisco Cervelli, and Danny Valencia as being linked to Biogensis. Finally, not to be out done, the New York Daily News chipped in with Jesus Montero, while Sports Illustrated threw its hat into the ring with Jhonny Peralta. Who’s next? Inquiring minds want to know.
In any investigation, information often leaks out in dribs and drabs. However, in this case, all of the names subsequently revealed were known to the Miami NewTimes, which published the original story. So, what explains its decision to withhold the identities of some players? An “abundance of caution”, according to the newspaper. It’s hard to give the NewTimes too much credit, considering the paper did smear several other players based on the cryptic writing in notebooks that may or may not have belonged to Bosch. However, the subsequent revelation of players who were not mentioned in the context of potential PED use is what’s most disturbing.
The players named in the various articles really have no recourse. All have issued public denials, but those statements have been treated like footnotes. The real story is their link to Biogenesis, regardless of how tenuous it may be. As a result, and to varying degrees, their reputations are now permanently stained. Even though there weren’t overt allegations leveled against most of the players cited, the pejorative context is still damning. What’s worse, all of the publications involved had to know this would be the effect. In fact, they were probably banking on it. The controversy, after all, is what generates page views.
In an effort to get back out in front of a hot story (an unfair assumption, perhaps, but no worse than implying PED use), Jeff Passan, Bill Madden and Tom Verducci all put their names on articles designed to do only one thing: create guilt by association. And, that’s exactly what they accomplished. However, some of that guilt should be directed inward. Just as players associated with Biogenesis are now subject to shame, the same should be true of journalists who compromised their integrity to latch onto a hot-button issue, especially in cases when players were named without any evidence of PED use. Unfortunately, these media members will not be held to the same scrutiny as the players they impugned…not by the public, which has a voracious appetite for scandal, and certainly not by their colleagues. On the contrary, many in the media have begun circling the wagons, shifting the focus from the ethics of sloppy investigative reporting to the sanctity of sources. Sadly, this only confirms the faulty compass currently guiding the media on the issue of PEDs in sports.
Revealing the identity of a source is not the same as sharing information with an organization that can appropriately address the issue at hand. Besides, in this case, the Miami NewTimes is not David Halberstam, and MLB is not General William Westmoreland, as Buster Olney recently suggested. For one thing, MLB is no longer tacitly abetting the use of performance enhancing drugs. If anything, it has become overzealous in its eradication. So, if the Miami NewTimes decided to cooperate with baseball’s investigation, it wouldn’t be capitulation, but rather a service done for the public good. Does that sound a bit trite? Perhaps, but isn’t that the agenda advanced by the media today? The righteous indignation expressed in everything from articles to Hall of Fame ballots seems to suggest so.
Since missing the boat on the steroid era back in the 1990s, the media has been paddling furiously to catch up. Unfortunately, in an attempt to keep up with an evolving story, journalistic ethics have been left behind. The same “everyone is doing it” compulsion that helped drive the proliferation of PEDs seems to be steering the media off course in its investigation of them. As more and more outlets resort to rumor-based reporting, and get rewarded for doing so, it’s easy to understand why even respected journalists have felt compelled to do the same. Is this lapse in judgment caused by misplaced professional guilt, or are journalists and news outlets simply trying to generate buzz? If the latter, it would mean steroids have become a performance enhancer for not only athletes, but those writing about them as well. Whatever the motivation, Biogensis is only the latest example of this disturbing trend, and there’s plenty of guilt by association to go around.