Earlier today, I posted a video of Skip Bayless explaining why he was justified in wondering if Derek Jeter’s very successful 2012 season was the product of performance enhancing substances. At the time, I promised to present his opinion with minimal comment, believing that the idiocy of his clown show with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN spoke for itself.
At some point, between then and now, I began mentally listing the ways in which this almost-accusation was reprehensible, and I think it might be important to actually go through these. I don’t believe that I’m convincing anyone of anything here. At least, I hope not. But perhaps in the conglomeration of refutations to Bayless’ dangerous speculation, we might collect something for future use to argue against something that is not unique to the incendiary devices on sports television networks.
On the surface, it’s irresponsible for anyone to suggest wrongdoing on the part of another based on anything but actual evidence. It’s especially distasteful to witness these types of accusations from a source that has a platform from which they are heard by a wide array of individuals from varying cultural and educational backgrounds. Such statements have the potential to result in the widespread dissolution of a positive reputation. And even in 2012, this is something that still matters.
Once the accusation is made, it’s out there, and it’s picked up. Hopefully, many of us will consider the source of the accusation and dismiss their suggestions after considering the reputation that this source has earned in our minds. However, not all of us are as active with our critical thinking skills, and not all of us are as aware of the source’s reputation. And when the source is being presented as an expert in such matters by the structure of the television show, their status with a newspaper or their past publications, it becomes even more dangerous when its consumed by undiscerning eyes and ears.
Therefore, these type of statements become harmful. So, to play with them, to use them for purposes of igniting something in your audience between conversation and outrage is irresponsible and inconsiderate.
Adding to the madness, in terms of accusations of performance enhancing substances, is the ignorance of the very thing that they’re accusing someone of using. At least when a wrongful accusation of murder or racism or other types of prejudice occurs, the accuser is aware and understanding of what the outcome of the supposed action was. When it comes to the use of testosterone or steroids or human growth hormones, they have absolutely no clue.
Few of us do. And even fewer have any idea of how the supposed specific use of the substance affected the individual, let alone what that specific use was, whether it was to increase muscle mass, become leaner, or rehab faster from an injury.
I believe that sometimes we think of athletes as somehow being beyond human based on our witnessing of their most prized abilities. What they do on their particular fields of play are extraordinary, but that doesn’t mean that the extraordinary extends beyond their physical accomplishments. It’s not beyond reason to assume that socially and psychologically, they are not anymore extraordinary than you and me.
Let’s imagine that you have a bad year. I don’t know what happens: your partner leaves you, there’s a death in the family, the creditors you’ve been avoiding finally catch up with you. The details don’t matter. It can be any of those situations. It can be all of them. But the bad year results in a decreased performance at work, and a less happy version of yourself.
Now, let’s say that a year goes by, and suddenly things get better. Again, I don’t know what happens: you meet someone new, you get over the death in the family and it results in an inheritance that use to pay off your debts. Much like before, it doesn’t matter. However, after your year of misery and poor productivity, you improve. Suddenly, you’re getting things done at work and you’re a happier person.
Imagine a person coming along, someone with a voice in your industry who knows nothing about your personal life, seeing the difference in your results and personality, and then making a connection between recreational drug use and your improvements. How would you respond?
Derek Jeter responded to the Bayless accusation with the following:
What do you want me to say? Maybe Skip should be tested. I don’t know him.
He shrugged it off in a manner that makes me want to rethink my earlier assertion that athletes are no more remarkable than you or I in terms outside of their physical attributes. I won’t not be so kind.
Adding to the reprehensibility of this specific instance of accusatory speculation is that a sports reporter has tools available with which to investigate his assumptions. He could go talk to Jeter. He could look at his approach at the plate this season and compare it to last. He could look at his increase in BABIP. He could look at how last year represented an outlier in terms of power, and this year is closer to his career norms. He could look at the problems Jeter had with his right leg last year that seemed to have healed this year.
At least with the imaginary scenario I provided the person making the accusation has no way of determining other factors. That excuse simply isn’t there for Bayless and his sort.
I understand that human beings feel the need to explain happenings. Derek Jeter’s rejuvenation certainly qualifies as a happening, but there are multiple pieces of actual evidence that at least partly explain his superior numbers this season. Not only is suggesting that his success is rooted in performance enhancers irresponsible and ignorant, as I’ve already shown, it’s also just plain lazy.
It’s easy to dismiss this type of analysis as only giving attention to the child whose actions are perpetrated for the sole purpose of causing such a response. However, as I outlined above and as we’ve seen with the video of Mark Cuban confronting Bayless before, there is a reason to call these type of people out, and it’s to arm ourselves and others with counter arguments. I can think of no better way to combat such nonsense than merely using reason.
I once heard a story about training bankers. I don’t know if it’s true or not. It’s the type of story for which I don’t really care about its legitimacy because the real value of it is in the point it makes. Apparently when bankers train, they’re never given counterfeit bills. All that’s provided to them are genuine currency. They handle only the real deal because they grow so accustomed to the real thing that the moment a counterfeit bill makes their way into their hands they can realize the differences immediately.
Skip Bayless is a counterfeit, and unfortunately we’re not all experts in the currency of reasoned sports analysis, and so from time to time we might rely on sports bankers to point out the unreasoned ramblings of accusing parties. Also, it just makes me really mad that someone can make suggestions like this without repercussions. Perhaps that’s playing into his hand, but it certainly makes me feel better to express my disdain.