Down and Distance
Even in the best of times, listening to sports talk radio call-in programs is a task for masochists who want their low opinions of humanity validated. Tuning in during a headlines-grabbing scandal, like the current one about the University of Miami booster who offered countless student athletes cash, hookers, jewelry, and more, is just downright excrutiating.
The death penalty! They scream on the air, The U program needs to get the death penalty! It is the only way to address this. They clamor for the NCAA to pull the plug on the University’s football program, barring it from competition, like a bloodthirsty mob summoned by Rick Perry to hang Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke at high noon.
Maybe it’s the merciless summer heat and the boredom stemming from the slowest time of the year in American sports. Whatever is going on, America is in the depths of its mean season, and all of that outrage gets spilled across the sports world – and aimed squarely at the University of Miami.
There are legitimate grounds to support the argument that universities shouldn't pay student athletes — do they pay promising young scientists? — but that argument gets a lot harder to make regarding unaffiliated boosters. In academic fields, universities encourage their students to seek outside opportunities when they arise.
So this guy – Nevin Shapiro – was convicted of securities fraud. Now he claims he used to take Miami football players to fancy dinners, hook them up with NBA tickets, buy ‘em clothes and jewelry, give them envelopes of cash when they were broke, and – yeah – throw lavish sex parties for them in Miami hotels, stocked with prostitutes.
But come on, Dan, the guy bought the players hookers
When he was being prosecuted on fraud charges, he asked a bunch of those guys – current NFL stars like Vince Wilfork, Andre Johnson, and Devin Hester among them – to help him out with his legal bills. They refused, he got angry, and he turned over some convincing documentation to reporters, detailing the extensive NCAA rules violations he facilitated, claiming full knowledge of players, staff, and coaches.
There are legitimate grounds to support the argument that universities shouldn't pay student athletes — do they pay promising young scientists? — but that argument gets a lot harder to make regarding unaffiliated boosters. In academic fields, universities encourage their students to seek outside opportunities when they arise. Only in athletics is that forbidden. When you outlaw a booster's ability to pick up the check at dinner, then you create a flat system of rules that makes buying dinner equal, in terms of what’s allowed by the NCAA, to packing a hotel floor full of prostitutes. Most people who call in to rant about the death penalty and that nonsense understand this. It’s just more fun to pretend not to.
There are two kinds of outraged reactions that Americans enjoy. There’s legitimate outrage, and there’s hypocritical, manufactured faux-outrage. This is true whether you’re talking sports or politics or anything else people are passionate about.
Last year, I was one of thousands of people who participated in an online demonstration called #mooreandme. #mooreandme was born after some comments by Michael Moore on Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC program, in which the filmmaker described the rape charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as hooey. Feminist bloggers, upset at Moore’s context- and fact-free characterization of serious charges, launched the campaign to seek an apology.
Almost immediately, defenders of Moore’s and Olbermann’s got to work counter-protesting. The ones that bothered me the most were the ones that explained that they were mad because all they saw was a bunch of manufactured faux-outrage. It wasn’t, and — by comparing it to the University of Miami nonsense — we can see how to tell the difference:
Manufactured faux-outrage requires an outrage processing plant
For outrage to be manufactured, someone has to do the manufacturing. In the case of The People Vs. The University Of Miami, that’s a horde of callow sportswriters and commentators who are excited at the thought of a major university football program getting the plug pulled on it just because it hasn’t happened in a long time, and it’d be exciting.
Their opinions filter out through the people who read their editorials, or listen to them on the radio, and suddenly you have an outrage manufacturing plant, up and running. Feminist blogs rarely have such production capabilities.
It has to be ideologically consistent to count
If you like to yell about how, say, “Government spending is theft in all situations,” but you’re happily voting to increase earmarks for your district, then your outrage is phony. Tea Party groups that threaten to turn on their own officials because they voted for the debt ceiling increase, meanwhile, are 100% authentic in their outrage. They may be so wrong-headed as to appear crazy, but they’re not hypocrites or churning out phony indignation. Which, applies to the case of the University of Miami, because…
If you’d switch your stance if it were your guy on the hot seat, then it’s not real outrage
With #mooreandme, those were our guys. It wasn’t a game of “gotcha,” because the protesters were Moore and Olbermann fans who were shocked. That's why it was easy to tell the outrage was legitimate.
Meanwhile, all of the callers on talk radio pushing for the death penalty for the University of Miami football program are walking a fine line. It’s easy to curse the rotten program at The U! Boo! Down with those jerks! But it’s impossible to imagine anyone who wears burnt orange on fall Saturdays holding that same position if a similar scandal were revealed at UT.
A scandal like this is possible at every school. Players aren’t making money, and hangers-on want to be friends with future stars. Coaches need an edge in recruiting. There’s no school where it’s impossible to imagine boosters getting out of hand with the gifts.
So when you hear people calling for the death penalty, ask ‘em what they’d do if it happened to their school. The stammering and justifications that it couldn’t possibly happen there will tell you everything you need to know about how full of shit they are.