Why the Lying of Roger Clemens is Worse Than Living in Pittsburgh
Here’s a parody of a debate over crime between a liberal and a conservative. Conservative: Blame the criminal. Liberal: Blame society. Here’s a parody of a debate over poverty between a liberal and a conservative. Conservative: Blame the lazy individual. Liberal: Blame the inequities in the system.
Examples multiply with ease. Where liberals tend to see systemic, institution wide problems, conservatives blame individuals. Where progressives want to see public institutions help people- social security, health care, gun control- conservatives want people to fend for themselves. (For brilliant discussion of this phenomenon, see chapter 7 of George Lakoff’s book “Whose Freedom?“)
In short, whereas liberals don’t hate the player, they hate the game, conservatives hate the player.
Speaking of hating the player, look at what Roger Clemens is up to lately. He’s pleading not guilty to charges of perjury. Knee-jerk moralizing tabloids and conservative papers such as the New York Post won’t shut up about it. Sports fans, being conservative, flock to lead stories on SI.com and ESPN.com. And what did Clemens do? He lied. An individual’s moral failing. What did he lie about? Doing steroids. A morally misguided individual choice.
But where’s the attention and outrage over the recent findings that the Pittsburgh Pirates took 69 million dollars in revenue sharing in 2007 and 2008, turned a nearly 30 million dollar profit, and didn’t spend diddly on payroll? Where’s the outrage at the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates ownership has a financial incentive to field a shitty team?
That problem is institutional, and so systemic. As a result, you won’t here much about it from certain corners. (In fact, a search of the New York Post website yielded zip.) And when the news of the Pirates’ financial practices broke, the Major League powers-that-be cited the leak of the financial information- an individual act- rather than what that leak revelaed- a systemic practice- as the bad apple.
Pirates fans, having endured 18 consecutive losing seasons, may be few and far between, and may not complain so loudly. (Not that they have much clout in the marketplace). But this isn’t just a Pittsburgh problem, it’s a baseball-wide problem. But so was- or is- the steroid era. Teams, advertisers and fans rewarded steroid users for using steroids. The system encouraged it. Granted, baseball has since taken steps to institutionalize a penal system for steroid use, though the players union, citing individual privacy rights, did everything it could to leave steroid-prevention in the hands of individual choice rather than league-wide policy.
On Jonah Keri‘s Twitter feed yesterday, he noted that the ESPN poll on whether the addition of Manny Ramirez would be an asset or liability to the Chicago White Sox broke down by red state/blue state. In blue states, Ramirez rated as an asset, in red states, a liability. Permit me to hazard a guess. Red Staters judge Ramirez as an individual, and find his moral qualities wanting. Blue Staters see how Ramirez will fit in to a system, or structure- the White Sox lineup- and see him as a run-producer.
Conservatives see only a caricature of progressives if they don’t recognize that progressives also judge individual moral failings. But conservatives miss the bigger picture when they don’t temper judgments about individuals with knowledge of the contexts, structures and institutions which encourage – even if they do not determine- the choices of individuals. Ballplayers will be liars as long as people, who are liars, will be ballplayers. It’s human nature, presumably. But the institution of Major League Baseball- its structures and financial rewards system- is something created by, and so changeable by, human beings. The system which incentivized steroids, and which incentivizes profits over victories, can be changed. It is disgusting that a corporation’s desire to profit can pull rank on the public’s desire to see their hometown team make good. Maybe a judgmental pun on the front page of New York Post would help.
pic by Lamarque/Reuters
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