(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The International Soccer Match-Fixing Scandal, the Media and the PEDs Scandals That Plague U.S. Sports

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic talked about this on ESPN Radio this morning.  Greenberg offered that if you switched the words "baseball," "basketball," or [American] "football," for soccer, this would be the biggest story/scandal in American sports history (you can go to and click on links regarding the involvement of a crime syndicate in Asia and the fixing of matches all over the globe, and allegedly in big tournaments, such as the World Cup, too).  Greenberg and Golic agreed that because this is international soccer, though, it won't get that much attention in the United States. 

Both observations are correct, but Greenberg and Golic missed a huge point, and, by doing so, underscore my point -- throughout the posts on this blog over the years -- that the sports media really consist of glorified fans and not journalists.  Why?  Because there were -- and probably still are -- huge scandals in the U.S. sports world that the U.S. sports media has missed and that should bother all Americans -- the pervasive use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Where were the members of the baseball media when players started showing up looking like puffed-up super heroes and were hitting ball after ball out of the park at statistically significant differentiated rates when compared to past history?  Should we really have believed that Lance Armstrong was a superluminary who somehow transcended his sport when all others were either taking Epogen or blood doping?  Is Major League Baseball clean now?  What about Melky Cabrera and Carlos Ruiz?  What about football, where there are no tests for HGH (and the continuous use of pain-killing shots before games)?  It goes without saying that the head-injury scandal still plagues football, but arguably doesn't get the attention that it should, what with all the former aggrieved players walking around (if they can walk unaided and if they can remember where they are going).  Baseball also had its problem with amphetamines, hockey with at least players' pumping themselves full of drugs like Sudafed before night games.  Only the NBA seems clean, either becuase it is or because the attention paid to other sports eclipses any attention it might otherwise get from those who choose to cover it. 

Yes, it's fun to cover games, to be at events, to be inside the stadium, to have access to those who "make it happen."  It's also uncomfortable to create confrontation by asking the skeptical question -- a reporter risks ostracization, ridicule and perhaps even assault.  No one, also, wants to go through life being a skeptic, questioning premises, because it can lead to becoming a cynic and wondering if anything is worth it, even the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning.  Done the right way, though, these reporters can do more than just tell us who won, who lost and what special sauce an offensive coordinator cooked up for the game plan.  There are layers of stories out there, and, over the course of the past quarter century, the sports media have missed most of them, at least in real time.

The world soccer match-fixing scandal is a huge story, and credit should be given to those who have dug hard to unearth it.  That's what good journalists do.  We all know who won the World Cup in 2010 -- we all have eyes, we all can watch TV.  But there were suspicious calls back then, too, including in a game involving the U.S. where one or two obvious bad calls were made.  My guess is that that game, as well as some others, will emerge among the questioned.  It is shocking.

At least as shocking at the roster of venerated baseball writers who somehow missed the fact that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire ended up with physiques resembling those of linebackers and offensive linemen, and not the skinnier home run hitters of a decade earlier.  That was dishonor -- to all of baseball tradition and its cherished records and its loyal fans. 

Just as this is.