Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/20/2006 04:28:00 PM
My Sportsmen: The BALCO reporters
Journalists Lance Williams (left) and Mark Fainaru-Wada face possible jail time for refusing to disclose their sources in their reporting on the BALCO probe.
By Phil Taylor
The two most important sports figures of 2006 are almost as anonymous as the sources they are trying to protect. You probably wouldn't recognize Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams if they sat down next to you at this very moment, and if you did, maybe you wouldn't have such nice things to say to them. They did, after all, take away whatever was left of our sporting innocence.
The two San Francisco Chronicle reporters-turned-authors did such a fine job of documenting the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs in sports that it was no longer possible for even the most naïve fan to ignore the issue. They blew the lid off the steroid story that by now, maybe you're wishing would just go away.
You know how the nation never looked at polilticians in quite the same way after All the President's Men? Fainaru-Wada and Williams wrote the book, Game of Shadows, that promises to have the same lasting effect on how we view professional athletes. Their work didn't just shine a light on the apparent steroid use by Barry Bonds and other famous athletes, it made sure that from now on when we watch a great performance, our adulation will always be mixed with a at least a touch of suspicion.
The two writers will never get a ticker-tape parade for that. They'll never have a stadium full of fans chanting their names. But the sports world should be grateful, really, for their work. The first step to recovery from this steroid mess is admitting that there is a problem, and Game of Shadows served as a kind of intervention.
But instead of gratitude, Fainaru-Wada and Williams may get a jail sentence in return, if they don't reveal the names of the anonymous sources who provided them with the illegally leaked grand jury testimony they used in their book. The men and women who corrupted our games get to walk away with little, if any, punishment, while the two reporters who helped expose that corruption have to defend themselves for telling the truth. If some judge makes the authors spend even a moment behind bars, it will be the worst call in sports history.
It may be cold comfort to them if they find themselves in a cell one day, but Fainaru-Wada and Williams did more than anyone to change the face of sports in '06. By exposing some of the cheaters, they struck a blow for honesty, integrity and fair play -- the kind of qualities you look for in sports and, come to think of it, in Sportsmen of the Year.
I believe these two journalists deserve this nomination. For any of us to believe in the sanctity of sport was truly absurd. Because of these writers, we need to face what professional sports has become.
It has also shown how odd our system is when those who have cheated the system and used "illegal" drugs to enrich themselves walk free and journalists who happened to uncover the deceit are imprisoned.
Indeed, let's nominate these two great patriots for SOY.
All they did was set a precedent for the force-feeding of unsubstantiated and unproved conclusions that are the result of dime-store journalism to the mainstream in the guise of hard fact; race-bait by proclaiming that Bonds' motivition for alleged steroid use was the adulation heaped on McGwire; and, perhaps, worst of all flaunt the integrity of our judicial process for a quick buck.
Lest you underestimate the significance of this last point, note that their leak doesn't facilitate greater knowledge of the improprieties of sport as Taylor argues; rather it inhibits it. This leak suddenly creates a disincentive for anyone who knows anything to come forward. And while, frankly, it is not of overwhelming importance whether Barry Bonds did or did not use steroids (seriously, who has not in MLB??), what happens when an athelete is involved in something much more serious like murder, rape etc.? Remember, there's a reason their's is a punishable offense. Yes,true heroes indeed.
It's absurd the amount of praise the two BALCO reporters are getting. Let me see if I have the story right. Someone leaked grand jury testimony, which is illegal. A judge ordered the reporters to disclose the leak, so the federal government could maintain the dignity of grand juries. They refused. They went to prison, where all other people who harbor criminals go. Just because they're reporters, though, the media finds themselves in charge turning these two into freedom fighters. I'm proud, as an American, that the judge put Fainaru-Wada and Williams in prison, and didn't succumb to the pressures of the self-serving media. If Phil Taylor and Sports Illustrated choose to support the harboring of a criminal by Fainaru-Wada and Williams, then I can't take any reporting in any branch of Time Warner seriously ever again.
This is typical reporters looking after fellow reporters b.s. If you took a poll of the normal population, a majority would not support these two guys, but obviously an overwhelming majority, if not all, of their fellow writers think they're heroes. Obviously this colors their view a bit. This is also the a reporters ultimate dream, to become the news instead of just reporting it.
This is one of those pieces that I read because I want to see the response rather than because of the content. This is a controversial idea. In my opinion they are not the Sportsmen of the year. However, they should not be in jail.
Anon, immediately above: Free speech does indeed have qualifications. For starters, you cannot break the law while exercising any of your other rights, including free speech. Also, weigh the other interest being served--Bonds' story is not exactly the Watergate documents to merit breaking law.