Why the difference in reactions to Boston sports scandals?

Jim Hackett
January 17, 2020 - 10:47 am
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Not all scandals are created equally.

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Now four days past Monday’s news of the massive punishment dropped on the Houston Astros for their key role in MLB’s advanced sign stealing scandal, many storylines have developed. The firing of Houston’s general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch after receiving league issued suspensions has had and seemingly will continue to have a significant domino effect like none we’ve ever seen in sports. Major League Baseball laid the gauntlet down and what comes next directly impacts Boston, the Red Sox and its fan base. It already has with the mutual parting of ways between the Red Sox and their popular, World Series winning manager Alex Cora.

Though the story continues to evolve as investigations deepen, the fan reaction in these parts to date has been interesting to say the least. Much has been said of how the fan base has reacted to this week’s news, making obvious comparisons to the scandals and perceived scandals of the Sox pro sports brethren in Foxboro. The New England Patriots have had their share of scandals to deal with since 2007, fair or unfair, and the fan response for each organization has been in stark contrast.

There are many reasons for that.

Usefulness

Though the stain of Spygate has lived on the Patriots dynastic legacy for years, I was never sold on the utility of its practice. After tirelessly reviewing the evidence while the topic was at its hottest and listening to the most unemotionally charged pundits who examined it, the whole thing to me was more about one coach’s obsessive compulsion to his process than some sort of scandalous act of cheating. The Patriots continued success for years to come on the field long since disproved the supposed advantage that fueled the angry media masses for years. The whole thing was always more about conjecture and interpretation versus practical use from the beginning. Those clinging to it as a "something" never really understood the facts of what it really was. It was the proverbial mountain out of a mole hill.

It was from Spygate that the “defend the wall” mentality of the region emerged and the rationale behind it was and is justified. The usefulness of putting a camera here versus there, in a sport that covets film review lacked any practical in-game advantage and utility. Bill Belichick simply didn’t want someone telling him what to do or how to do it and the team, brand, legacy and region of fans paid the unfortunate price. The fans were upset and unified to rightfully protect their team and its image.

Therein lay the biggest difference to this week’s MLB scandal surrounding the Red Sox -- the practical application of advanced sign stealing with the help of real-time technology is useful.

If fans are upset, that anger is more about the potential of the Red Sox bringing more stain to this city and region’s well-earned brand of exceptional sports success. Anger of the fan base is now is pointed inward. If the investigation proves the Red Sox guilt in this emerging scandal then I wouldn’t expect a great defense from a fan base that is sick and tired of dealing with scandals, perceived scandals and everything that comes with it, which leads me to my next point.

Fatigue

Aren’t you tired of hearing about this scandalous stuff? I am. Defending yourself is tiring enough. Defending things you love for acts you have nothing to do with or control over gets tiring. Around here, exhausting would be a better definition as I unhappily unloaded in this recent article surrounding the farcical nature of Spygate 2.0.The outrage surrounding this was complete and utter bologna. It had ZERO to do with the Patriots football operation, but was exhausting nonetheless. I simply don’t have the energy to defend another proposed or perceived scandal from my beloved sports teams and I’m not alone.

Bad timing for the Red Sox? Yes, but it is what it is.

Today’s Gotcha Culture

When was the last week that passed without some sort of scandal? If you have spent a day on Twitter then you would be hard pressed to miss one. Just this week you have the MLB cheating scandal and all its collateral damage, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s post-debate debacle and Odell Beckham Jr.’s juvenile behavior after the National Championship game. Insert whomever you like, but the fact is that everyone now has a target on their back. Times in this way are far worse now than it was during Spygate or the farcical nothing burger that was Deflategate. This fact alone doesn’t help motivate the fan masses either, it just adds to the fatigue.

Misrepresentation of Facts:

I’ve been saying for nearly two decades that the reason the country is so divided is that we have multiple sets of facts. There are the facts, the bent perception of the facts depending upon the news channels you consume, the fake news on social media and the incomplete interpretation of any of the above. This very real societal problem was perfectly displayed during both of the Patriots’ supposed scandals. The Talking heads attacked in both instances at word one and despite the eventual infusion of facts into each case, those with the biggest voices whom were initially enraged rarely changed their positions. Chris Mortensen’s incorrect tweet lasting for several years after being disproven comes to mind, as does Marshall Faulk’s continued insistence that the Patriots taped a St. Louis Rams practice walk-through, a report that was subsequently discredited.

Overreaction without all of the facts. Breaking news without context inside our America’s growing "gotcha culture" have driven fan reaction around here for the last 15 years. Years with celebrated success and accusations of scandal to defend. If the facts are on your side and the fan base feels wronged, the wall will be built and defended to the last breath. However, if the Red Sox are proven to be missing the facts in their favor, you can’t blame the fan base for a failure to act. The failure would be on the Red Sox.

That’s the difference.

Related: Lou Merloni on report of MLB investigation into 2018 Red Sox not finding much so far: ‘I’m hearing the same thing’