I don't generally agree with Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko, the fictional millionaire who was taking the U.S. financial system by storm in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street. Greed is not inherently good, and it is not inherently right. Naked, unrestrained greed doesn't fix much, but it does break a lot of things down. At some point in the last 25 years, however, we've begun to conflate self-interest with greed, and to condemn them both equally. This has especially become true in our sports culture.
Take Buster Olney's tweets in the wake of the Biogenesis announcement yesterday, for example.
Least surprising thing is that players accepted plea deals out of self-interest. They took the PEDs in the first place b/c of self-interest.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 5, 2013
For Cruz and Peralta self-interest, accepting the suspensions is a logical choice. They get suspension behind them going into free agency.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 5, 2013
Or Evan Longoria's:
Today is a sad day for MLB,the fans of this great game, and all players who may have been negatively affected by others selfishness...— Evan Longoria (@Evan3Longoria) August 5, 2013
Or Brad Ziegler's:
If guilty players truly cared about the fans' & their teammates' feelings, they would have NEVER done it. Just say "I'm sorry I got caught."— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) August 5, 2013
We, as players, are tired of talking about PEDs. I personally have little sympathy for those that act selfishly and scar the game we love.— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) August 5, 2013
It's hard not to read Olney, Longoria, and Ziegler's analysis without feeling their disdain for these players. That feeling is entirely fair; those players broke the rules and they deserve both their punishments and our disappointment. But to call them self-interested or selfish for taking these deals, or for taking the drugs in the first place is overly simplistic. Let's not pretend that the decisions faced by Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Everth Cabrera, Jesus Montero, Antonio Bastardo, and even Alex Rodriguez himself were easy to make or were made solely for selfish reasons.
Cruz is the only player to come forward and admit his guilt while providing some context for his decision at the same time. I suppose whether or not you take him at his word is entirely your call, but he tells a plausible story about being scared for himself, his family, and his team in the wake of an infection that left him unprepared for the 2012 season. Rather than do the right thing, he chose poorly. But, again, if we accept his explanation, he wasn't doing it just for himself, but also because he believed taking PEDs to be the best way to help everyone. Quite frankly, it seemed to work. Cruz was on the field for 159 games last year, more than any other player on the Rangers. While he had his worst offensive season since 2007, he kept them from having to rely more heavily on young players who weren't ready, like Leonys Martin. The Rangers won 93 games and one of the two American League wild cards in part thanks to his contribution.
I'm not saying that makes him a hero or anything, just that it makes his decision more complex, and more understandable. Faced with bad choices at every turn, how many of us would make the one that least hurts the people we love and who rely on us, regardless of its moral implications? Regardless if it's fair to everyone else? We might even think that, by taking on that burden and sacrificing our own morality, we're being more selfless than anything. I just know I find it hard to condemn a person like that, given my own fallibility and knowing I might make the exact same choice in that moment that Cruz did to get back on the field. I have a hard time being angry with Cruz or Peralta for taking their suspensions now, knowing that their value next season relies, in part, on their availability.
Are they acting out of their own self interest? Sure. But it's also out of interest for their families and whatever club they're playing for next year, which is presumably no more or less important than the one they're on now. Really, we all act out of our own self-interest, at least in part, all the time.
So let's calm down. They've been caught. Save for A-Rod, they're all set to start serving their time. They aren't cartoon villains with plans to undermine the league. They aren't criminal masterminds. We can't and shouldn't pretend to be any better or different than they are. (Well, except for Jordany Valdespin, maybe. That guy's nuts.) But to treat them as though they are more powerful and any more influential than the Longorias and the Zieglers and the majority of the league who are clean makes them seem far more important than they actually are in the face of hundreds of players, coaches, and executives trying to combat the use of PEDs.