Who’s Laughing, Now?

Published: May 8, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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In May 2000, I wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times (Excuses are not Ethics) about basketball coach Bobby Knight’s infamous throat-grabbing of one of his own Indiana players. After the incident, University President Myles Brand said, “I had never seen him before contrite and apologetic… I think the ethical approach is to give him one last chance.”

That “last chance” lasted all of four months.  In September of that year, Knight was fired as head coach at Indiana University for once again, crossing the line with his contemptible actions.

In August, 2008 I wrote about Manny Ramirez (Being Manny) being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers due to his personal behavior.  “He shoved the traveling secretary, slapped at his teammate Kevin Youkilis, questioned the team’s honesty about his option and said the Red Sox did not deserve a player like him.”

Because his behavior was now affecting the team’s overall performance, Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers, where, it was hoped, manager Joe Torre would be able to rein-in some of the diva’s well-known behavior.

Well, it worked… sort of.

Yesterday, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Ramirez for 50 games when results of a urine test showed “…traces of banned substances,” the New York Times reported.

Suspicious after previous drug tests on Ramirez, league officials looked through his medical files and “discovered that Ramirez had been prescribed human chorionic gonadotropin, or H.C.G., a fertility drug for women that men can use to generate production of testosterone after they have stopped using steroids.”

“The famously quirky Ramirez,” the Times wrote, “known for his dreadlocks, baggy pants and often oblivious demeanor had signed a two-year $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.”

With Ramirez as the team’s sparkplug, the Dodgers had put together the best record in baseball this season – 21 wins with only 8 losses as of Thursday.  However, with a 50 game suspension, Ramirez will not be able to return to the line-up until July.

In a Thursday statement released by the player’s union, Ramirez said “that a doctor gave him a medication that was not a steroid for a personal health issue and that he believed he could use it without violating the drug-testing program,” the Times wrote.

“Unfortunately,” Ramirez said,  “the medication was banned under our drug policy.  Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now.”

It’s interesting to note that when things are going well for the team, the word used to describe his behavior is “quirky.”  The most oft repeated phrase used by Red Sox management was, “Manny being Manny.”

Somewhat similar language was used sometimes in describing Bobby Knight’s early “antics.”

However, in my May, 2000 Op-Ed on Knight I wrote that “This kind of thinking is all too common in business as well as sports.  In spite of the offense, if you apologize and act penitent enough, we will tolerate, allow, make exception.  We’ll give you a pass because you’re talented and we want – we need – that talent.  Talent,” I wrote, “is the overriding factor because of what it contributes to big sales and winning teams.

“Unfortunately,” I pointed out, “when you make this kind of allowance, you lower the bar for everyone else.  You also put the entire organization at risk, jeopardizing the trust of others you work with and rely on, and sending a message about how far you are willing to go to win.”

So, when are team owners and fans going to reach the breaking point?  What will it take to change?

These are the critical questions that need to be asked.

My solution, as far as baseball goes, would be my own version of the “three-strikes” rule:

First offense:  suspension without pay for a minimum of half the season.

Second offense:  suspension without pay for one, full season and a fine equivalent to 50% of a player’s yearly salary to be used and/or donated to drug programs for kids.

Third offense:  lifetime ban, no exceptions.

And I would extend the policy to include management and officials, as well.

Now, the only thing left is adoption by all team owners, period. Let the player’s union take you to court.

Or, as Federal Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis once said, upon appointment as baseball commissioner after the famous “Black Sox” scandal, “The only thing in anybody’s mind now is to make baseball what the millions of fans throughout the United States want it to be.”


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