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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

June 16, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 50




Pat Morrison Jayson and Sammy: Not in the same league

By Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

At this writing, the omnipresent news, analysis and commentary about the Jayson Blair/ New York Times debacle has moved onto the back burner of America's interest. The backlash from Blair's blatant plagiarism, total disregard for journalistic ethics and outright invention of "news" has seriously damaged the credibility of the world's "paper of record" and its upper echelon, so much so that the Times' top management -- executive editor and managing editor -- both resigned.

But in something akin to a badly choreographed line dance, as the Jayson Affair was two-stepping back, a new player on the "What Happened to Ethics" dance floor was moving on up: the Sammy Scandal.

I'll issue a disclaimer here right up front: I'm from Chicago. You can't be a Chicagoan with a team like the Cubs and not understand loyalty. Even a sport-challenged Windy City native like me, who can barely distinguish between a baseball and a golf ball, has something like a genetic imprint that tells me, come what may, to support our Cubbies.

That being said, the media is now newly obsessed with Sammy Sosa's corked bat. And perhaps the attention is warranted. Sammy, the poster child of "nice" in a sport where ego sizes tend to match the numerals in the salary contract, committed The Mortal Sin of Baseball. If Sammy were some unlikeable lunk who refuses to autograph balls for little kids or beats his wife, it would be different. We'd shrug it off with a cynical "What do you expect? " But Sammy Sosa, with a smile like a choirboy and a reputation for being a genuinely good guy -- that Sammy would cheat is like getting a fast ball in your gut.

Managers and sports specialists hastened to Sosa's defense: He has no prior record of using corked bats or doing anything even minimally unlawful. Sports channel ESPN even sliced open an old, randomly selected Sosa bat on live TV to show it had no cork in its core. And Sosa's 76 other bats were all clean. Sosa's explanation is that he used a corked bat earlier in a Wrigley Field exhibition and pre-game show for the fans - designed to enhance the spectacle and making it easier to repeatedly hit a ball far into the stands or out of the ballbark, to the crowd's delight. He says he made a mistake and inadvertently used that same corked bat in a regulation game. Whether Sammy Sosa deliberately aimed to cheat the public or not, I don't know and can't judge. But even if he did, Sammy Sosa and Jayson Blair can't be placed in the same league at all. For one big reason: personal responsibility. Sammy Sosa said, "I made a mistake." Intentional or not, he admitted he has let down the fans; he knows that now a pall of questioning hangs over professional baseball. Jayson Blair, on the other hand, despite a flurry of pathetic print and TV interviews, has still not accepted responsibility for his actions. In a recent on-camera interview, he blew off the reporter's inquiry about the motive for his actions with a melodramatic "it's a human tragedy," proceeding then to a soap-opera lathered list of excuses: his addiction, his need to prove his college professors wrong, his need for control and recognition, etc., etc., etc. Missing in the entire narrative was any real moral inventory, any glimmer of honest self scrutiny: I lied. I betrayed my profession and my readers. I did a wrong thing, and I'm sorry.

Sammy Sosa in effect said, "I'm sorry what I did hurt you."

Jayson Blair's script says, "I'm sorry what I did hurt me."

Two very different ways of accepting moral and ethical responsibility.

No way Sosa and Blair are in the same league. They're not even in the same ballpark.

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is

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