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“Cooperation” with an investigation does not mean talking to the media

Feb 18, 2013, 1:47 PM EST

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Buster Olney is usually pretty sensible about PED stories. He’s not an apologist or anything, but nor is he usually an alarmist. He’s a realist, mostly. He doesn’t condone PED use, obviously, but he also sees it as part of the landscape of baseball and a problem to be dealt with as opposed to some moral scourge that threatens the institution.

Which is what makes his column today (sorry, ESPN Insider) so baffling.

In it he takes issue — in a way more agitated state than he normally portrays about, well, anything — with the official statements the Biogenesis linked ballplayers have made since the story broke. He particularly focuses on their comments about how they intend to cooperate with the investigation, calling it “posturing”:

Isn’t it amazing? Everybody who is caught really wants to help, wants to cooperate fully, but can’t answer questions … If those who are busted are truly contrite, they can give money made to charity. If they were truly sorry, they would have nothing to hide and they could answer any question from anybody, as lessons learned and passed on to others.

Olney is confused, I think, about with whom these players have a duty to cooperate. They have a duty to cooperate with Major League Baseball and, if it comes to it, law enforcement. They do not have a duty to “answer any question from anybody.” Indeed, given that they are subject to investigations by their employer and, potentially, the feds, they would be absolutely stupid to be “answering any question from anybody,” and indeed, both Major League Baseball and law enforcement would probably prefer that they didn’t so their investigations aren’t compromised.

In any event, these players do not have a duty to cooperate with the media or to testify in “the court of public opinion,” which 100% of the time means “the opinion of the writer penning the column you’re currently reading.” I gather that Olney would rather have them say nothing at all — he tweeted a few moments ago that he’d prefer a “no comment,” — but how that is acceptable when a short “I’m aware of the information, will cooperate with the investigation but cannot comment any more publicly” is so odious to him, I’m not sure.

But while we’re comparing comments, let’s compare two more, also from Olney’s column. Check out this bit, referring to Melky Cabrera‘s statement that, in taking PEDs, he made a “mistake”:

A “mistake”? Would someone who embezzled money from his company say he made ‘a mistake’? Would someone who used somebody else’s ATM card to take millions claim he made “a mistake”? Note to players who are linked to PEDs: If you get caught, please, enough with the statements that are supposed to convey contrition and sorrow and a desire to fix the problem of drug use in baseball. Just save it. Please, say nothing at all.

Then, a few paragraphs and a change of subject later, Olney tackles Todd Helton‘s DUI apology:

Helton, 39, declined to discuss the nature of help he’s receiving. He told The Denver Post after the news conference that he doesn’t believe he has a drinking problem. However, he reiterated that he’s following a protocol to avoid another misstep and recognizes the gravity of the situation.

Helton talked for 9 minutes, 47 seconds, his voice halting at times as he recalled telling his older daughter, Tierney, about the incident.

“I told her I made a mistake. Just like Daddy forgives you for your mistake. I have to learn from it. When I talk about taking the right steps, I am talking about her too,” Helton said. “She holds me very accountable too.”

What, no angry rant at Helton for having the gall to call his crime — a far more serious one than Melky Cabrera committed — a “mistake?” No demand for more information about Helton’s decision making and his judgment or, alternatively, an invitation to shut up? Why, Buster, are you so agitated at Melky Cabrera copping to a mistake which harmed no one but himself but totally cool with Helton copping to a mistake which could have killed multiple people?

To his credit, Olney rarely if ever traffics in hysterical outrage. I suppose, then, that’s why he’s so uneven in applying it here. Simple inexperience.

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