By Ron Carter
Blog Post Updates
My good friend and colleague, Dr. Wayne Edwards, is the guest blogger for this week’s “Curbing Bad Behavior.” My current interest in sports related stories and an insightful conversation with Dr. Edwards prompted me to share this week’s post with “Curbing Bad Behavior” readers.
Dr. Edwards served as Dean of Student Services at John Jay College. He was also a Vice President at several entertainment companies. He is currently writing his first book, “Can’t Touch This: Memoir Of A Disillusioned Music Executive.”
Don’t Hate The Players, Question The Owners Instead
by Wayne Edwards, Ph.D.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably told your athletic son or daughter the age-old cliche, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Wisdom aside, you might want to reconsider that position. With another round of major league baseball’s winter meetings, team owners discuss the use of banned and/or illegal performance enhancing drugs. Generally omitted in the storyline, however, is the complicity of these wealthy owners — the folks who sign the checks — in the rampant cheating going on amongst professional athletes.
Symbolic of America’s major sports (with the exception of basketball, thus far), baseball once again had to deal with its players being linked to banned and/or illegal PED’s. And while Alex Rodriguez and other high profile admitted or suspected cheats make themselves easy targets for public ridicule, accountability for the abundance of PED’s falls on shoulders much broader than theirs. The athletes are, after all, paid employees. The day their employers decide tolerating drugged up workers is no longer acceptable, regardless of one’s impact on the team’s success, will be the day PED use has any hope of getting knocked out the park. Until then, with only minimal threats to lifestyles exceeding their wildest dreams, athletes will continue to do anything they can to gain a competitive edge. And who can blame them?
In 2009 Rodriguez admitted to using steroids, but only from 2001 to 2003 when, as a member of the Texas Rangers, he felt “an enormous amount of pressure” to live up to his contract. This after denying PED use numerous times, including his now infamous denial in a nationally televised interview with Katie Couric on 60 Minutes. Sure he looked foolish when the truth finally surfaced, but his steroid use has been well rewarded. In 2007, the same year his Couric interview aired, Rodriguez signed a 10 year contract worth $275 million to continue playing baseball for the New York Yankees.
Six years later that contract remains the richest in baseball history, breaking the previous record of $252 million for ten years signed in 2000 by — you guessed it — Alex Rodriguez when he joined the Rangers. Since both contracts were executed prior to his PED confession, let’s play along and give both Rangers and Yankees management a pass on their feigned ignorance. But if you believe nothing else, please believe this: if the powers-that-be in baseball were naive to widespread PED use, it was selective naiveté because of all the money the sport was making off the suspected juiced up exploits of Rodriguez (above left), Roger Clemens, Ryan Braun, Barry Bonds (above right), Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and so many others.
I spent twelve years as a senior level corporate executive in the recording industry, and one thing I know is this — getting the inside dirt on an artist was simple. If it hadn’t already found its way to the behind-the-scenes rumor mill, a few well-placed phone calls usually did the trick. We knew which clean cut performer left a cocaine trail wherever she went, which lover boy crooner was fronting about his sexual orientation, which gambling addict songstress needed a six-figure advance from the record company to pay off her Vegas debts, which macho sex symbol was involved in an ongoing affair with a transvestite. And so on. The point is, if we could easily gain access to inside information on the artists, don’t think for one moment that sports team owners wouldn’t instruct management to rake an athlete’s history over the coals before agreeing to commit millions upon millions in salary.
If you’re gullible enough to think otherwise, look no further than the case of Melky Cabrera. In the 2012 season the San Francisco Giants outfielder was suspended fifty games after testing positive for high levels of testosterone. He was his team’s best hitter so his suspension jeopardized the Giants chances to make the World Series. To make matters worse, when major league baseball began investigating Cabrera, one of his associates went so far as to create a fake website and an absurd claim that Cabrera’s positive test was caused by a substance sold by the site.
After such a sordid episode, you’d think teams would avoid Cabrera like the plague. But that didn’t happen. Cabrera, who at the time of his suspension led the majors with 159 hits, was second in the National League with a .346 batting average and was a legitimate contender for Most Valuable Player honors, signed a two year, $16 million dollar contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. To hear major league baseball tell it, the new contract is Cabrera’s punishment for using a banned substance and insulting the intelligence of the commissioner’s office. The storyline we’re supposed to buy into is that being exposed as a cheat and a con artist killed any chance Cabrera had of securing the mega-contract he was hoping to score.
Even ignoring the fact that almost everyone on the planet would consider $16 million mega-enough for a lifetime, baseball’s logic doesn’t add up. According to espn.go.com, the average baseball salary in 2012 was $3.2 million. Not exactly chump change by any standard, but the message baseball sent with its handling of the Cabrera fiasco (and more recently, Jhonny Peralta and Bartolo Colon) is that the average ball player could more than double his income with a good PED-fueled season. Even if he gets busted. As for Cabrera’s old Giants teammates, not only did they make it to the World Series, they won. And they agreed Cabrera deserved a ring despite being suspended for almost a third of the season, suggesting PED use is a non-issue for them.
This would be the perfect time to rant about athletes making millions while teachers, nurses, sanitation workers and other essential service providers barely earn enough to pay the bills, but the argument about society’s misplaced values is as old as society itself. Besides, when a professor figures out how to turn Math 101 into fannies in stadium seats and television ratings, Hollywood will be bombarded with treatments from educators hoping to secure the million dollar contracts big time advertising dollars guarantee. And, as human nature sadly dictates, some unscrupulous souls would utilize dishonest tactics to secure several more millions than their competitors. That’s not to say we should accept the use of PED’s in professional sports, but we do need to acknowledge that no PED-free athlete has ever signed a $275 million contract.
So the issue shouldn’t be Alex Rodriguez having more money than some countries or Melky Cabrera having sixteen million reasons to celebrate being a cheat. Or, for that matter, Lance Armstrong making millions while lying his way to a record seven Tour de France titles. Or Marion Jones risking it all because two one-hundredths of a second can make all the difference between million dollar Olympic gold endorsements and silver medal obscurity.
In a free market economy the goal is to make whatever you can, whenever you can, for as long as you can. It’s the American way. So don’t begrudge athletes for faking their way to whatever riches the market will bear. If anything, begrudge the owners who have made cheating such a rewarding enterprise.
Wayne Edwards, Ph.D., served as Dean of Students at John Jay College and the College at Old Westbury where he also taught Media Studies. As Vice-President of A&R for Capitol Records he signed M.C. Hammer and BeBe & CeCe Winans. Edwards also served as personal publicist for Michael Jackson. His first book, Can’t Touch This: Memoir Of A Disillusioned Music Executive, is scheduled for publication in summer 2014. Edwards, who holds a doctorate degree in sociology, lives in New York City with his wife Jeanne. Visit him at www.wordsbyedwards.com.