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Last Week in Petulant Sports Writing


Though it may be old news at this point I just wanted to say a few words on Josh Hamilton Gate from last week. More specifically, I’d like to discuss the reaction of one, Jeff Passan, and the inflammatory consequences of a journalist allowing personal disappointment colour his portrayal of a story.

As many of you probably know by now Texas Rangers' outfielder and recovering addict, Josh Hamilton, fell off the wagon last Monday reportedly having drinks in a Dallas area bar. Writing for Yahoo Sports, Passan's article often takes on the tone of a let down fan rather than a journalist attempting to objectively cover a somewhat tragic story. Throughout the piece Passan's petulance takes the form of a bizarre impulse to place blame on an admittedly sick individual and nowhere is this more evident than in the article's introduction: "The worst part about Josh Hamilton’s relapse is that he didn’t care. The most famous addict in sports does not go to a bar in the town where he is best known without full knowledge that his exploits will becomes public in a matter of hours." What is, of course, troubling about Passan’s opening is that, instead of viewing Hamilton’s awareness of being caught--and almost certainly publicly humiliated--as a sign of the severity of the outfielder’s addiction, he chooses to portray the relapse as a careless lapse in judgement.

Further confusing Passan’s take on last week’s events, the article quickly shifts, taking on a much more sympathetic tone. “Hamilton does care, of course” Passan explains in his fourth paragraph. Wait, hold on...what? Contradicting the accusatory tone of the article’s introduction, Passan admits that Hamilton’s relapse does not “represent weakness” but is rather “a symptom of addiction’s vagaries.” There are several points in the article where Passan makes similar concessions and during these moments of lucidity the writer seems to acknowledge the fact that addicts will not always be able to overcome the challenges that their illnesses present them with. These moments, however, do not overshadow the overall accusatory and downright petulant tone that characterizes the article.

If you were worried that Hamilton’s relapse was a complicated situation possibly influenced by the pressure of being in the public eye; the loss of Hamilton’s long time “accountability partner,” Johnny Norran or his tragic involvement in the death of a spectator last season, don’t worry, Passan assures us its not. “The particulars...don’t matter as much as the act. With addicts they never do. Sobriety is black and white. Black won Monday.” Though, the physical state of sobriety is obviously black and white, for an addict the act of maintaining sobriety is far more complicated. Never explaining the basis of his psychiatric expertise, Passan reduces a complicated psychological illness into an overly simplified black and white concept and in doing so he, not only, makes it easier to speak disparagingly about Hamilton’s relapse he carelessly diminishes the challenges faced everyday by recovering addicts.

What Passan comes close to but ultimately fails to convey is that even when one is not dealing with the pressures of being both a public figure and inspiration to millions of recovering addicts, battling addiction is an ongoing process often marred by moments of weakness. Just because many look up to Hamilton as a role model does not mean we can expect him to be perfect. What we can hope for is that Hamilton continues to be open and honest about the challenges he faces as a recovering addict. We can hope that Hamilton’s battle will continue to inspire fellow addicts to fight their illness even after they experience similar setbacks. We can hope that in witnessing how easy it is for an addict to fall off the wagon that those who have loved ones struggling with addiction continue to provide them with the support that they need. And finally, if/when Hamilton suffers another relapse we can hope that the journalists put in charge of covering the story have a little more patience--and perhaps, write a couple more drafts--before they further stigmatise addiction by publicly attacking people who are merely showing the symptoms of their illness.

As always, if this struck you as not terrible feel free to check out more at my blog: thejimbag.blogspot.com

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