Pro athletes can be enigmatic people. So, too, can the people who cover the games pro athletes play.
When sportswriters – especially the folks who get paid to cover a team – interject their opinions on their Twitter feed or a blog post, then they become part of the story as well. We see this every year at Hall-of-Fame voting time. Another perfect example in baseball is when an athlete gets busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball writers love (no, LOVE!) to get up on their soapboxes and rail at the sky about how those players are destroying the game. Just look back at some of the Grade A conniption fits some writers have thrown over Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Yasmani Grandal and others.
I don’t begrudge them those opinions, even if I may not share their vitriol. What I ask is this: where is the outrage over a DUI?
Yes, using PEDs is now forbidden in baseball. Yes, using PEDs creates a competitive imbalance within the game and puts an athlete’s accomplishments into question. But does using PEDs put innocent lives at risk the way driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol does? While Alex Rodriguez brings embarrassment to himself, the New York Yankees, and baseball as a whole, did he endanger lives the way Todd Helton did a couple of weeks ago?
Simply put: no.
When the longtime Colorado Rockies’ first baseman decided to get behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 truck at 2 am on February 6, 2013, he put lives at risk. His driving was so erratic that police were rightfully called. His mugshot now belongs in the Celebrity Mugshot Hall of Shame. Helton’s iconic moment – fists raised to the sky, shouting in triumph as he catches the final out of the 2007 NLCS – has been sullied with photoshop images of him guzzling wine from an Igloo cooler instead of celebrating the Rockies’ lone trip to the World Series.
Let’s be clear on one thing: no one was injured or killed as a result of Helton’s appalling decision. Thank heavens for that. But it does not excuse his appalling lack of judgment. His apparent motivation for this dangerous drive was lottery tickets and chewing tobacco. Is that worth a human life?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 30 people in the U.S. die every day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The CDC says that translates to one death every 48 minutes. In statistics reported by MADD, Colorado drunk-driving deaths increased 9% from 2010 to 2011. In fact, 36% of Colorado traffic-related deaths in 2011 were drunk-driving related.
Being arrested for a DUI has devastating effects on the offender. Typically, by the time one pays for bail, court fees, penalty fines, and insurance costs, the price tag is about $10,000 – and that’s if you didn’t hit anything or injure anyone (hat tip: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
This doesn’t even begin to take into account the devastation visited on a victim. I can’t and won’t even begin to quantify something like that. Ten thousand dollars is pocket change to Todd Helton, who has made over $150 million in his major-league career.
Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock foolishly drove while drunk and died in a 2007 crash. The Angels’ Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. So, sadly, there is tragic precedent between drinking and driving and baseball players.
You might think the media would be critical of Helton, similar to how the media excoriated former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa or outfielder Delmon Young after their alcohol-related incidents.
Sadly, they were not.
Not comparing Helton to Young (who is, by many published accounts, a terrible human being), but local Denver Post writers practically fell over themselves to EXCUSE Helton for his crime. One columnist flippantly began a column thusly: “So now the statistical line for Rockies star Todd Helton reads: 354 home runs, .320 batting average and 1 DUI arrest. Helton is sorry, Denver.” Another has completely glossed over the seriousness of what could have happened in favor of emphasizing that Helton is a “prideful” man who is contrition was obvious before he uttered a single word of explanation to his fans.
When Helton did finally address the media this past Sunday (11 days after his arrest), he was apologetic, but gave no explanation for the delay. Helton refused to discuss why he decided to drink and drive that night, and no media members pushed for an explanation. Helton claims that he has “gotten help” for his “monumental mistake,” yet he would not elaborate what sort of help he is getting. Is it because the investigation is ongoing? If so, then say so.
And is it just me, or did he seem irritated that he had to speak about his DUI at all? Local TV stations also reported that this would be “the first and the last time” that Helton would address this matter. That sound contrite to you? Me either.
No one asked Helton if it ever occurred to him that he could have injured – or killed – a child wearing a Helton jersey or t-shirt. Has Helton considered what such an unspeakable tragedy would do to his legacy? I’d like to know the answer to that question, yet the media has not asked it. Why? Could it be that it is easier to screech and preach about intangible things like the “spirit of the game” or “integrity” than it is to deal with all-too common occurrences in life like drinking and driving, alcohol dependency or automobile crashes? I don’t have an answer. I just wish someone were willing to ask the question.
No questions will be forthcoming from Major League Baseball. Bud Selig has offered no comment whatsoever on Helton’s DUI. The Denver Post has reported that the Rockies do not plan to discipline Helton for his crime, but they did issue a STRONGLY WORDED statement the day after Helton’s arrest. The team used phrases like “extremely disappointed,” “full accountability,” and “severity of the situation.” But an organization that has for years trumpeted how much it values “character” in its players, coaching staff and management, will take no further action other than issuing a statement that essentially says “STOP! Or I’ll say stop again.” Three cheers for hypocrisy, everyone!
Here’s a question for the media, Rockies management and fans: what if it had been a player other than Todd Helton, the franchise icon? What if it had been one of the Rockies’ many young pitchers? A 20-something, perhaps single guy, trying to establish a major league career? Would everyone be so quick to come to that player’s defense, espousing deep insights into his psyche and rationalizing a horrible decision? Or would they be raking him over the coals, demanding his release and entry into a rehab program? Interesting question, isn’t it? The cynic in me has a guess what the answer would be, and the answer is disappointing.
Check out these numbers tweeted by Anthony Witraudo of The Sporting News: “By Sporting News’ count, 12 MLB players, an exec, a bullpen catcher, an announcer and a HOFer have been busted for DUIs since start of 2011.”
Pardon the turn of phrase, but that’s a sobering statistic. The way so many baseball writers harp about PEDs, you’d think the ratio of PED users to DUI arrests was 50-to-1. Again, I ask, where are the priorities of baseball writers? Shouldn’t the DUI issues at least get equal time?
In fairness, the National Football League has a much higher number of players who have been arrested for driving under the influence. But no one grandstands about the prevalence of PEDs in the NFL, either.
Helton said Sunday he is taking “all the right steps to make sure (drinking and driving) doesn’t happen again.” Let’s hope it doesn’t. He played Russian roulette with his massive pick-up truck and got lucky. If it were to happen again, the end result might be a tragedy far more heartbreaking than an athlete caught using steroids. I hope that is something members of the baseball media come to realize sooner rather than later.