“For Hire. Immediate Opening: A hard-hitting, slick fielding third baseman who has a track record of achieving publicity, not always positive, for himself and his team. Contact the New York Yankees.” That’s how a help wanted ad might read as a result of the 2014 season suspension handed down Saturday against Alex Rodriguez.
I have mixed feeling about the arbitrator’s decision. On the one hand, I feel that Major League Baseball wanted to make an example of A-Rod. On the other hand, the baseball union agreed to have an arbitrator decide issues that cannot be settled amicably, thus avoiding a court battle.
But if A-Rod is serious about taking his case to federal court and the court agrees to take the case all sports – not just MLB – may be the losers, even though the A-Rod arbitrator’s ruling is upheld.
That’s because while legal reporters will cover the trail proceedings as they always do, sports journalists will do what many sports journalists always do: treat a sports story as if the American way of life depends on the outcome.
It’s a sure bet that sports journalists will write hundreds of stories regarding the sorry history of players using PEDs and the baseball establishment looking the other way until their hand was forced.
The National Football League will be dragged into the stories as journalists compare the actions of MLB to the football powers decades-long ostrich-like stance regarding injuries to players suffering from concussions.
Op-Ed and editorialists will opine about the glorification of sports in our society while really important issues, like war and peace and life and death, are ignored by many politicians who are willing to give away the house to sporting entities, but also are willing to evict from the house the needy.
A-Rod is not the only party tainted by the long effort to punish him. So is Baseball. Stories have been written about MLB’s unethical and heavy handed approach in what it says is its effort to rid the game of PED users. Any business entity looking into a person’s private lives, as if it were a bona fide law enforcement agency, and paying for information should not be defended. The discovery of evidence by using these unsavory methods is much more troublesome than any individual PED user.
Courts have generally ruled in favor of an individual’s right to work, despite companies objections. A-Rod is 38 year’s old, young by my standards but not by baseballs. Preventing him from working for an entire season can be tantamount to ending his career.
Major League Baseball might not want the “depriving an individual from making a living” argument to be played out in open court or become a topic that will be talked about in non-court proceedings. So now that MLB can claim victory over A-Rod, but not unconditional surrender, it’s not inconceivable that A-Rod’s punishment will be reduced by a kinder, gentler, baseball establishment. (There is history of sports suspensions being reduced.)
Does A-Rod deserve the punishment he received? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that there is something wrong with a justice system that permits the commissioner’s office, which for years ignored the steroid era, now be the deciders of who and how someone should be punished for using. Guilty or not, A-Rod has been hung out to dry for months as Baseball and its media allies portrayed him as the devil incarnate.
Sports have always been treated by governments and much of the media as if it was a business encased in Teflon, receiving special considerations not enjoyed by other businesses. It’s way past the time when governments and the media should stop iconizing the sports business and its employees. Sports is Big Business and should be treated as such. And the media should stop praising athlete’s on field performances while down playing or ignoring their off-the-field transgressions.
If the government starts treating the sports industry like any other big business and the media stops acting as a public relations arm of the sport industry, coverage of MLB’s victory might result in a public relations disaster for all sports.
Objective reporting about the big business of sports would produce more balanced journalism and also make for a better America.
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Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. He now is a frequent contributor to PR publications, consults on projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.