This article is about StarCaps Wars, but the intro is going to run rather long, with good reason. Einstein once said that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. I shall take some time to pay my respect to the ironic complexities of the things we often call simple truth and law and order.
Listen my comrades and you shall hear why right and wrong aren’t crystal clear. - Elgar, with apologies to Longfellow
Everyone makes mistakes, but it usually takes teamwork to create a disaster.
I shall now use the Wayback machine. This replay booth is Minnesota high tech. Rocky and Bullwinkle and Peabody and Sherman knew that you readers deserve the best.
There has been much mention of laws of late. According to the letter of the law, the Colonies which became the United States did not have the legal right to become the United States of America. The British had the divine right of kings on their side. They had a sovereign government whose Parliament was duly authorized to pass laws and tax their colonies. So how could the colonists be right in declaring independence of the United States if doing so was illegal? The formal answer is called the Declaration of Independence. War broke out.
The truth gets hairy when one considers point of view and how it works in framing things. The weakest part of law is often at its very foundation. If we take a step back in the case of the United States, human beings were living here in what is now called America long before the Brits arrived, and their claim of the right to live on the land had seniority. The Brits took New Amsterdam from the Dutch in a war or two and then called it New York. By one account, the Native American who sold the Dutch the isle of Manhattan for beads was no primitive idiot, he was a con man. He did not own Manhattan, which belonged to another tribe, so the price that he received for it was a real steal. The Brooklyn Bridge was not ready to sell yet, so he decided to think big. It is hard to subpoena witnesses from the time of that sale, and this article is going to be about the NFL and the NFLPA, whether you believe me or not. Just think about how wars start, and let us continue.
My point here is the truth is much older than dirt, and digging it out is even harder. Who is right and who is wrong will always depend on what you accept was going on in the first place and which first place you select. Were the colonists with their catchy slogan "no taxation without representation" right or wrong? I shall allow you to read the Declaration of Independence and decide that one for yourselves.
Now we drag into court in this current case of the poisoned pills one Sir Walter Scott’s relevant testimony via his epic poem Marmion: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive." (Please note that the old Scottish spelling of "practice" is a reminder that what is right depends on one’s point of view and on the factor of time.)
Let’s now cut to the chase in this tacky novel and start slinging alligators over the transom.
In one context, Pat Williams was wrong. He signed a contract with the Minnesota Vikings that said he needed to make a certain weight by a certain date and not rely on diet pills to do so. Let us use our world renowned psychic powers (the kind Pat might have used and spared us all much grief) and speculate that Pat felt that the important thing in his contract (to both the Vikings and himself) was that he came into camp at the agreed weight. A white lie should not hurt that much. (Famous last words?)
Like Lennon said, comrades, "Got a good reason for taking the easy way out now."
Pat is from Louisiana. He has actually been an officer of the law there. He likely heard about how well StarCaps worked from his friends on the New Orleans Saints. StarCaps diet pills were being sold in broad daylight on the Internet by Nikki Haskell, a successful socialite, who has the ear of people like Donald Trump. StarCaps were not being sold out of the back of a rusty pickup truck with no plates on it in a dark alley. Anyone who reads mystery novels has probably figured out by now that Pat recommended StarCaps to his teammate, Kevin Williams. Aye, there’s the rub. Pat is on the hook for getting Kevin into much more trouble than Pat ever imagined possible.
The reason for that is that Pat was not the only party partaking in deception in our drama. No one knows publicly who put the bumetanide in StarCaps. That ingredient is not on the product label, and for good reason. It is a prescription medication, and cannot legally be contained in a product being sold without one. We do not have to hire Sherlock Holmes to nab the louse. I bet Watson will tell us that bumetanide did not arrive inside the pill bottles by accident. Who the culprit was will not concern us here. The bottle lied.
In one context, the NFL was right. It wanted to do something about the use of steroids to gain advantage in sports. Whether it is moral to use the same chemistry that human genes do to create strong muscles in a human body may be debated. For our purposes, I shall state merely that it is illegal in this country to inject steroids without a doctor’s prescription, and that law was passed in part because the use of steroids is dangerous.
As the King once sang, fools rush in where wise men never go.
I recognize the bias of my own point of view. I am probably not the only wide receiver in junior high who was shocked to find that a cornerback could manage to grab you by the wrist and not get caught doing so by the officials. People cheat. Some even get away with it. That does not make it right, either morally or under the rules of the game. There are even rules in love and war, whether they are obeyed or not. The foundation of such matters is where the problem lies. It is easier to feel that what you do is right. The other side must be wrong.
When you give your word, people expect you to live up to it, but words have more than one meaning, and errors in communication are human. Laws state what is legal or illegal within certain jurisdiction and at a certain point in time using words. What you thought the rule meant may not be what was intended.
There are processes by which laws may be changed. If you think the law is wrong, you are motivated to change it. Because something is illegal does not guarantee it is unethical, and vice versa. Dr. Martin Luther King broke the law by sitting at a food counter and then accepted the punishment to make people ponder whether the law itself was morally right or wrong.
Now we get to the two words which Leo Tolstoy used for his novel title, crime and punishment.
It is a principle of ethics that the punishment fit the crime. Whether you believe that capital punishment has merit in severe cases or not is not the deciding factor in whether you feel it should be applied to a minor parking violation. People make mistakes, and if being human alone is a capital offense, then the budget for executions is going to get well out of control.
The StarCaps case involves the issue of whether intentionally taking steroids to gain an advantage in sports should carry the same punishment as unknowingly ingesting a diet drug which legally cannot be in the product someone bought. Ethically, it is not a matter of what the policy says, it is a matter of how much harm and good are done by making the policy so.
Here are a few of Pat Williams’ problems related to the severity of the punishment: Should he allow his teammate to whom he recommended a pill to be punished with the loss of four games salary and banishment from the Pro Bowl? Should he allow his teammates to pick up the slack for two starters for four weeks because he could not read what was not written on a label?
If I were Pat, I’d fight it, because the punishment does not match the offense. Personally, if I got us into this mess, I take the reins and try to drive us out of it. If nothing else, the steroids policy needs to be improved. Sitting at home just watching games on TV won’t achieve that. I must go to court and fight an injustice.
A deal is a deal, but some deals are bad. What about a deal in which you hire expensive lawyers to convince a twenty-something individual to sign away his rights and agree to try to jump the canyon on your ranch on a dilapidated motorbike without a parachute or helmet for the sum of two dollars in cash? Sure, the kid might legally commit to do it with his signature, but is the rich rancher in the right to risk the kid’s life and make a fortune televising the event? In the actual case of the steroids policy, if there are no checks and balances on what the NFL may decide to do under it, there is room for error to flourish.
Publicity is a deadly weapon.
Let us remember, the whole drama started when someone leaked the test results to the media. The NFL must have considered confidentiality important, because the Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances states: (http://www.nflplayers.com/images/fck/2008%20Steroid%20Policy%20_Final%20Version_.pdf) "The confidentiality of players’ medical conditions and test results will be protected to the maximum extent possible, recognizing that players who are disciplined for violating this Policy will come to the attention of and be reported to the public and the media." What about before the players are punished though?
The policy states the punishment for breach of confidentiality: "Any Club or Club employee that publicly divulges, directly or indirectly, information concerning positive tests or other violations of this Policy (including numerical summaries or specific names of persons) or otherwise breaches the confidentiality provisions of this Policy is subject to a fine of up to $500,000 by the Commissioner."
So why is not Roger Goodell looking high and low for who leaked the test results to the media?
In another section, the Policy states that "…the specimen collectors, Independent Administrator, Consulting Toxicologist and testing laboratories will be presumed to have collected and analyzed the player’s specimen in accordance with the Policy." In other words, the people who have all the test results have no skin in the game. The NFL thought it knew what it was doing.
Let’s make John sing it once more time: "Got a good reason, for taking the easy way out now."
Yes, it was the NFLPA who agreed to this policy on behalf of the players. They probably believed the NFL would only use the policy to prevent steroids use. If you entrust someone to represent your interests who does not do that job well for you, your faith has been misplaced, whether that party is the NFL or the NFLPA.
The NFLPA is fighting for the rights of its members in court now. Perhaps under the contract they signed, the horse has already left the building along with Elvis, but the NFL should realize that future is not going to be cancelled due to lack of interest.
It does not follow that because a party signed a raw deal, they are going to make the same mistake twice.
Perhaps the NFL felt cornered when they did not prevent confidentiality from becoming broken with regard to the policy. They got caught which their pants down and may have felt they needed to play tough. (The press has a field day when you look weak. Who cares about right and wrong? There are plenty of ads to be sold.) Remember, the NFL did not suspended the first player who took StarCaps and made them aware of the dirty secret ingredient. They did not suspend eight other players who had taken the allegedly horrifying, banned bumetanide intentionally under a doctor’s prescription, though I cannot find a paragraph in the policy that allows for that exemption. It was discretionary. Yet the NFL is intent now on suspending players who took diet pills that could not legally have contained bumetanide, even though the NFL was among the few who secretly knew that the pills did.
Perhaps, as Hamlet said, the play’s the thing wherein we catch the conscience of the king.
My late grandma always said things like: "Do not cut off your nose to spite your face", and "Don't be penny wise but pound foolish." What you are entitled to do by policy and good judgment are neither clones nor identical twins nor words which you can use interchangeably. Discretion is the better part of valor.
To err is human. It is one thing to mistake the door to the blast furnace for the door leading to the restroom in the foundry. It is quite another ignore your mistake, walk in, and take the heat in that way. Embarrassment is not the worst fate imaginable.
You may have a piece of paper that says you own Manhattan, but as Sportin’ Life points out in Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so. Once a war breaks out, all hell breaks loose.
Maybe Pat needed a crystal ball to know what was in the bottle; maybe the NFL should get one to look at the future. We all make mistakes.
My next to last witness is another king, Rodney King, whose idea is, "Can’t we all just get along?"
And now, I must call to the stand the final, star witness, Alexander Pope:
"To err is human; to forgive is divine."
"Trust not yourself, but your defects to know. Make use of every friend and foe."