By this time next week, I will have cast my ballot for the Heisman Trophy, the most famous individual award in all of American sports. It will be the 10th time I have done so, and it is an honor to be part of such a great college football tradition.
Just don’t expect me to tell you for whom I voted. After nine years of my revealing that information before the award’s presentation, I received a polite, but direct, e-mail from the Heisman Trust earlier this year telling me to keep quiet.
I’m not usually someone who responds well to the “or else” tactic, but in this case, I quickly agreed to follow the rules. I like my Heisman vote and want to remain part of the process. If the folks at the Downtown Athletic Club are eager to keep the balloting as secret as possible, right up until the Big Announcement, I’m okay with that. Some people aren’t. They think they should be able to broadcast their preference over any available platform. This is 2013, not 1975, and since everybody’s opinion is supposed to matter, why shouldn’t voters be allowed to make their choices public? Because the Heisman Trust says so, that’s why.
Anyway, I’m keeping my mouth shut, at least until after the winner is declared.
The man who decided to sell his Baseball Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin doesn’t share the same follow-the-rules attitude. (I’m assuming this is a man, since recent evidence that we men only use half of our brains would indicate an unwillingness – or inability – by him to employ all of the gray matter at his disposal.) The person in question decided that the process of choosing those who belong in baseball’s Valhalla is flawed. To demonstrate that, he cashed out with Deadspin, which will use a poll of readers to determine how it will use the vote. No financial details of the transaction have been made public yet, and it’s unlikely the Deadspin ballot will be accepted, even if it comes in under the name of the writer who sold out. Secrets are tough to keep these days, and the identity of the offending party will eventually become known.
When it does, the person should be banned from press boxes around the country. He should find it impossible to get a credential to cover a grade school track meet, much less a World Series game. His decision to turn an important responsibility like helping to decide who is enshrined in Cooperstown into a prank is an affront to the process and to the field of journalism. If he feels the process is flawed, then he should remove himself from it. Or, he could work within the confines of the Baseball Writers Association of America to change it. He may consider his actions a protest about how things are done, but they seem more like a middle-school cafeteria practical joke, the journalistic equivalent of loosening the lids on all the salt shakers.
The people charged with selecting the Hall of Fame inductees are chosen for their knowledge, experience, and most of all, judgment. They are expected to appreciate the criteria for inclusion into the Hall and be able to apply that understanding in a serious manner. By transferring that responsibility to the readers of a website – for money, no less – this person has dishonored the Hall and the journalistic profession. If he is for sale, how many other writers and broadcasters can be bought? At least that’s what some fans will think.
Despite the proliferation of media outlets and sites that don’t necessarily put a premium on the old-fashioned standards of journalism, there is still a right way to do business. Being objective and fair remain vital. A keen, thorough eye is necessary and the desire to present everything that has happened, rather than a convenient version, is the mandate. Those qualities may not be present in all journalistic accounts these days, but they remain the standards. Selling out is not part of the job description.
Deadspin has some culpability in this, for helping to denigrate the process in exchange for some publicity. It is a prime example of today’s collision between journalism and commerce – and how the business side of thing is winning. No matter how some regard the site, it will gain plenty of interest (notoriety?) and attract new eyes to its content. Like a four-year old who cares not how he gets noticed, Deadspin will embrace positive and negative attention and love it all.
The main culprit is the man who sold out. He has sullied the profession and deserves to pay. His privileges as a voter should, of course, be revoked. But now that he has proven that he is for sale, he should not be granted media access to events, lest he stain other journalists with his mercenary status. He has abused his privilege and must endure the punishment.
The rules are the rules, whether we like them or not.
Michael Bradley is a writer, broadcaster and teacher headquartered in suburban Philadelphia. His written work has appeared in Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, Athlon Sports, Hoop and Slam, among others. He is a host on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia and contributes analysis for Yahoo! Sports Radio and Sirius Mad Dog Radio. He appears on CSNPhilly.com, writes a weekly column on Philadelphia Magazine’s “Philly Post” and has authored 26 books. He teaches sports journalism at Saint Joseph’s, Villanova and Neumann Universities.