I recently performed my Baseball Writers’ Association of America duty by voting for the Hall of Fame. I checked the boxes next to the names of Mark Buehrle, Todd Helton, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner.
I did not vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa because I believe they were massive users of performance-enhancing drugs. It probably wouldn’t take much, possibly less than one beer, to get me to say that they were big jerks and bad guys for tainting the game of baseball.
During a Jan. 4 appearance on 670 The Score, Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush caused a national storm by saying he wouldn’t vote for Aaron Rodgers for the NFL Most Valuable Player award this season. He called the Packers quarterback “the biggest jerk in the league” and “a bad guy’’ for punishing his team and his fan base “the way he did.” He didn’t specifically mention Rodgers’ decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or Rodgers’ misleading answer to reporters about whether he had been vaccinated. But it was clear those were big reasons someone else would get Arkush’s vote.
My immediate thought was, “That’s not right.’’ The MVP award has nothing to do with whether a person is a villain. It has to do with how good a football player he is. I voted for Schilling for the Hall of Fame even though I despise some of his personal and political views. He was a great pitcher. The Hall is supposed to reward greatness.
I still don’t agree with Arkush’s stance on Rodgers, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to understand how someone might let feelings affect what would seem to be a simple analytical exercise. I would go further and say that it’s ridiculous to think emotion wouldn’t play a role in voting and that the reaction to Arkush’s planned snub of Rodgers – think of a mushroom cloud – was overwrought.
As long as humans are voting for awards – or anything — judgment will creep in. It doesn’t matter if the voter is a fan, a sportswriter, an athlete, a coach or a Hall of Famer. Human nature doesn’t care if you work in IT or hit a baseball for a living. It just wants to have its say. To expect a candidate’s personality, image or appearance not to be part of a voter’s calculus is silly.
All of us bring prejudices into any voting booth we enter. I would guess that a good number of Americans didn’t vote for the incumbent in the last presidential election because they found him to be an abhorrent human being. It wasn’t because they disagreed with him on the economy. It was because they thought he was a big jerk and a bad guy. Is dislike a good enough reason to vote for someone else? There’s nothing in federal voting laws that says it isn’t.
Why, then, do we hold Arkush to a different standard? Because a vote for the NFL MVP award is more important than a vote to decide who becomes president of the United States? If you answer “yes’’ to that question, take a good, hard look at yourself in your official Bears framed mirror. You’ve officially become unmoored.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa destroyed the baseball record book and taught a generation of kids that cheating was the way to succeed, health concerns about PEDs be damned. Yet plenty of voters believe Bonds and Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Those voters are not bothered a bit by the cheating. Everybody was using steroids at the time, they say. Steroids weren’t illegal in Major League Baseball during that era, they say. Those players saved the game when it was failing, they say.
Those are all judgments that confuse me. But the important word there is “judgments.’’ We humans have this bad habit of seeing things differently.
It’s a safe bet that Arkush won’t be the only MVP voter offended by Rodgers’ views on vaccines. The quarterback risked infecting teammates, coaches, friends, acquaintances and strangers by not being vaccinated. He had to sit out a game because of the league’s health protocols. All that could play a role in some voters’ eyes. None of it should be part of the MVP equation, but I know why those voters might be swayed negatively by Rodgers’ behavior: They’re human.
I have no idea whether Rodgers is a big jerk or a bad guy. I do think he believes he’s smarter than everyone else. He thought he could fool people by saying he was immunized against the coronavirus. And he did, for a while. One thing I know for sure: Being a guest host on “Jeopardy,’’ as Rodgers was, doesn’t mean you’re a genius. It means that a piece of paper you’re holding tells you that the Andes are the longest mountain range above sea level. Somewhere along the line, Rodgers confused reading answers with having superior intelligence.
And somewhere along the line, we confused voting with neatness. It’s not neat all. It’s messy.