Shame doesn't seem to exist in the sports world anymore
Does shame exist anymore? Does anyone in a position of power or prestige who exhibits behavior — whether questionable or heinous or somewhere in between — truly feel genuine remorse for the wrongs they've committed?
It's a question that came to me on Tuesday, after reading yet another story of Washington Commanders team owner Dan Snyder's misdeeds, this one by ESPN investigative reporter Don Van Natta. That's the one where we discovered that Snyder may have committed bank fraud by getting a $55 million loan without the necessary approval documentation from his team's board of directors and misled his three now-former ownership partners in the process.
That story came a day after The Washington Post published a piece saying that if Snyder sells the Commanders he's demanding that the other members of the league's ownership club indemnify him against all future legal liability and costs, angering his fellow billionaires and reigniting talk that they might, possibly, at least consider for a little bit, booting the petulant Snyder from their ranks.
And that story came on the heels of Saturday's reporting from The Athletic that Snyder won't sell to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos because Bezos also owns the Washington Post, the source of nearly all of the deeply reported stories that have led to Snyder's current public issues, beginning with revelations of a highly toxic workplace environment for female employees that led to a weak punishment from the NFL and Congressional investigation.
One of these stories would have led a person capable of shame to take the money (the Commanders will sell for $6 billion or more) and run, but Snyder has shown again and again, over decades, that he is patently incapable of feeling shame.
(We present as evidence this feature from the Washington City Paper, published in 2010 and documenting all of Snyder's foul dealings to that point. It hasn't gotten better in the 12-plus years since.)
But Snyder is far from the only one. If we delved into the political realm we'd be here all day (George Santos, anyone?), though nauseatingly enough, sports just in the last few weeks has provided plenty of examples.
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell — beyond the reported desire to continue giving cover to Snyder despite the fact that he has made a mess of a franchise that should be a money-making machine — clearly have lost any ability to feel shame as well.
A league that has long been said to be obsessed with optics, and whose figurehead leader began in public relations, is currently and unabashedly shoving Jim Brown down our throats, painting him as a good guy. Just this year the NFL unveiled the "Jim Brown Award" to be given annually to the player with the most rushing yards each season, then tweeted a five-plus minute video of Brown via its Inspire Change Twitter handle later in the month.
Brown was a tremendous running back for the Cleveland Browns and he was a strong voice during the Civil Rights Movement. But he also has a lengthy track record of allegations that he's a violent, unrepentant domestic abuser, accused of throwing one girlfriend off a balcony and raping another among several alleged incidents.
The NFL couldn't have celebrated Barry Sanders instead? All of the talent and eye-popping highlights, and as far as we know, zero rape accusations.
Last month, the NBA held its annual All-Star celebration in Salt Lake City and chose to include Karl Malone in the festivities. Yes, Malone as a basketball player is a Jazz icon. Malone also impregnated a 13-year-old child when he was a 20-year-old college student, has never publicly acknowledged the resulting child is his, and when confronted about it by media during All-Star weekend gave this response: "I’m not discussing any of that backlash. I don’t care. That’s my life, that’s my personal life, and I’ll deal with that like I’ve had to deal with everything … whatever. I’m human.”
Not to be outdone, Alabama men's basketball is playing through it, even though one of its star players, Brandon Miller, allegedly delivered the gun to Darius Miles that Miles then handed to a third man, Michael Davis, who is accused of shooting and killing 23-year-old Jamea Harris within minutes of Miller's arrival. Miller hasn't been charged by police but what we know to this point suggests he was involved and at minimum shouldn't be playing.
Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats' initial reaction to media about Miller's involvement included him saying the player "did nothing wrong" and was simply "at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Opposing fans have been shouting "lock him up!" and a young woman is dead, her 5-year-old son without his mother, but there's a tournament to win, am I right?
Time was, the public reaction or fear of public outrage would have meant these things never happened. The NFL's new rushing award would have been named for someone else, the NBA would have told Malone thanks but no thanks, and 'Bama would recognize that one of its players being even tangentially involved in a murder allegation is a terrible look no matter how high they're ranked in the polls.
Those days seem long gone.
Beyond that, though, do you see a pattern here? Other than Snyder's financial misdeeds, these all involve violence against and the mistreatment of women. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised because the entirety of my life, and my mother's life, and my grandmothers' lives and all of my lineage before them, has shown that women are still too often treated as second-class citizens.
Leagues and teams and organizations will regularly proclaim that they care so much about women — unless and until they're allegedly done wrong by a man who's part of the team ownership club, or used to play football really well, or brought a basketball team some measure of glory (though never a championship), or might lead his school to the apex of college hoops.
Then it's basically, "I don't care ... whatever."
Happy Women's History Month.