I have been watching the furor over the public release of information that baseball star Alex Rodriguez used an unapproved steroid around 2003. What I don’t understand is why he is being made into the villain of the piece.
So many people have expressed public rage toward him. Clearly taking enhancement drugs was not heroic, but neither was it all that out of the norm for that time. The voluntary testing in 2003 (with guaranteed privacy) was initiated precisely because organized baseball was aware that the taking of enhancement drugs – which was not yet clearly regulated in 2003 – was likely pervasive, and deeply embedded in player culture. The goal was to change that culture by initiating regulations – which was done the following year.
The worst you can say about A-Rod was that he claimed in interviews that he’d never taken performance-enhancing drugs. Lying in interviews is certainly not heroic behavior, but neither is it illegal. The fact that people are so upset by that speaks mainly to our crazy collective fantasy that sports figures are supposed to be something other than what they are – highly talented professional entertainers. It’s a little like saying that because Amy Winehouse is a great singer, she also needs to be an exemplary human being. Who are we fooling here?
But I’m not here today to talk about A-Rod. He’s not the villain of the piece. The villain is whoever took the fateful step, along what was apparently quite a long chain of steps – to make this privileged information public.
We might start with the federal subpeona of the test results during the 2003 BALCO investigation, but it’s clear that these federal investigators were operating with every expectation that the information they had seized would not become public, so they are almost certainly not our villains.
I understand that the leak was provided by four different anonymous sources – which is what gave Sports Illustrated the confidence to print the info. I would argue that the true villainy here is shared, in various amounts, by those four sources and the decision-making managing editor of S.I.. Compared with these folks, A-Rod is as innocent as a lamb.
Why do I say this? Because what these people did is attack you personally – you who are reading this. You put confidential medical information down in a lease or a contract, you provide confidential information about your child’s behavior problem to his teacher – under written guarantees of privacy. You type your private phone number into a Web form that explains it will never release that info, or look for informatoin using a search engine after reading the policy that clearly states your query terms will not be shared with anybody. You talk to your doctor about your wife’s bouts with depression, and her fears that her condition might become publicly known.
You do many things in the course of a day or week or month that involve a clear and explicitly stated contract of privacy. What these villains have done is take that away from you. Your rights, your privacy, the ability to shut your door and have a private conversation. Apparently none of it is real – your silly little illusion that you are entitled to the simple dignity of having people honor their word to you.
This is what has been taken from you by the villains of the piece. And you will not get these things back that you have lost unless the law recognizes that a crime has been committed – against all of us.
So the next time you rail against A-Rod, please keep in mind that you, or even your child, could be next.