In his book, Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants, James Wolcott mulls the onslaught of angry TV news personalities who yap and nip rather than inform the public. Armed with phony indignation, ridicule and pious smarminess, these great canine packs pose as our nation's moral guardians. Lately the sports pages, too, have been stuffed with shrill, self-righteous assaults by writers who see themselves as auxiliary police of opinion.
In 2005, no sports figure was more vilified than Jason Giambi. After the San Francisco Chronicle published excerpts of his grand jury testimony -- in which he admitted taking steroids and human growth hormone -- the media painted him as the Hester Prynne of East 161st Street.
Because Giambi failed to meet his exacting standard of moral rectitude, a wag at the New York Post barked: "He has disgraced the Yankee pinstripes and made a mockery of everything that is wonderful and good and pure about the game of baseball." To restore the Pride of the Yankees, a Post columnist even suggested that the Yanks embroider a scarlet "S" for steroids on the back of his jersey.
Outside of Manhattan, the dogs were in full attack mode. The Baltimore Sun woofed: "Baseball should ban Giambi. Expel him. Void his contract. Whatever."
The Journal News of Westchester growled: "The Yankees have to fire Jason Giambi, no matter what his union says. Cut him, waive him, make him go away."
To his credit, Giambi never engaged his critics. He neither pointed fingers (Rafael Palmiero, anyone?) nor attempted to downplay the enormity of his actions. At a preseason press conference, he apologized to the public and said he had told the truth to the grand jury. Of all the players called to testify, he may have been the only one who was entirely honest and forthcoming.
The most remarkable thing about Giambi was the way he excelled under withering pressure. In 2004, under treatment for a pituitary tumor, he had the worst season of his career. After an horrendous start in '05, he reinvented himself in July by hitting a major league-best 14 home runs. Giambi wound up with 32 homers and 87 RBIs, and led the American League with a .440 on-base percentage. Then he hit .421 in the ALCS.
His comeback did not silence his detractors in the sporting press, for whom forgiveness has no place. They're more interested in drawing blood than allowing a fallen athlete the possibility of a second chance. But aren't second chances what make sports so inspiring in the first place?
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