Pete Rose and Phillies: The Illusion of Morality in Sports
I am not old enough to have watched Pete Rose play Baseball but thanks to ESPN Classic and Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series, I got to see a lot of “Charlie Hustle” to know who he is outside of the prolific statistics he compiled in his career as he became Baseball’s All-Time Hits King. I do remember Pete Rose the Manager and as a kid, I had the blissful ignorance of not yet knowing the depths or the significance of why Pete Rose was banned from Baseball almost 30 years ago. I remember asking my Grandfather, a proud Italian Philadelphia sports fan, why it’s a big deal that Rose gambled and why it should mean he would be banned for life from Baseball. My Grandfather tried to explain it to me, but in my stubborn innocence I was dismissive and thought it was ridiculous. As I got older, I learned more about Pete Rose and the game of Baseball; with age I developed the understanding of one of the dark truths of the Sports World: there is an Illusion of Morality in the Sports propagated by the teams that employ the athletes fans idolize as a means to keep making money.
The Phillies organization decided to change course Wednesday and not have Pete Rose participate in their Alumni Weekend after the nasty allegations of Statutory Rape came to light, allegations that date back to his time with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970’s. It was the Philadelphia Phillies’ fans who voted for Rose to receive the honor of being inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame, which would make them the second Major League Baseball team to honor Rose and his career. The Reds didn’t just honor Rose, but also erect a statute of his likeness that stands outside their ballpark. These allegations of Pete Rose’s abominable relationships with teenage girls on top of the stories of him flaunting his affairs in front of his family along with the history of Rose’s obsession with Gambling, all of it paints a very dark image of the man that so many Baseball Purists and Youth Coaches point to as the role model of how to play the game “The Right Way”. The brutal contrast of Pete Rose on the field versus who is off the field is just another example of the conflict of many sports fans who struggle with the idolization of their favorite athletes.
Pete Rose isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, famous athlete with off the field dirty laundry. Both Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger have been accused of Rape; while neither was convicted of these crimes, the stigma is still there and many wonder if their Innocence in the Criminal Justice system was the byproduct of the benefits of their fame and fortune. For all the Philadelphia fans who loved Allen Iverson, his exploits in Atlantic City at the casinos and his poor attitude off the court has built him an infamous reputation that manifested itself with his recent spree of questionable behavior while being the Main Attraction of Ice Cube’s Big 3 Traveling Basketball Showcase. The irony is that the play that made Iverson famous, the Crossover of Michael Jordan, was considered a passing of the torch. Maybe it was literal since Jordan also was infamous off the court for his Gambling excess and affairs during his playing career.
The Sports World is full of professional athletes with bad character off the field but having success on the field. Lawrence Taylor is considered by many to be the greatest defensive player to ever take an NFL field, but his life is full of issues with Drug Use and Felony Arrests. For many people, they separate his greatness on the field from his deviant behavior off the field. So if people give “LT” that benefit, what makes “Charlie Hustle” different? Yes, Pete Rose has lied numerous times about his actions off the field, but its not like Lawrence Taylor had a "come to Jesus moment" and turned his life around. In 2017 LT plead Guilty of DUI after crashing into a Police Car in September of 2016.
Teams and Sports Organizations talk about having players with good character who contribute to the locker room and the community, but it’s all an illusion. As long as the players are making the team money and having some level of success on the field, they could care less about their attitude and activities. If the allegations of Statutory Rape by Pete Rose did not come out recently, he would still be at Citizens Bank Park to be inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame because it would sell tickets and people would come out to see the man who many fans idolize. Fans put athletes on a pedestal and the teams profit from this amoral view of these flawed individuals. They only showcase their Illusion of Morality when allegations of reprehensible conduct becomes public. Only then will the team attempt to save face because then it becomes difficult to make a profit off the name and likeness of that athlete.
At the end of the day, teams don’t really care about things like Morality; they are multi-million dollar businesses that are out to maximize profits. No team really wants to honor Pete Rose, but for franchises like the Reds and Phillies who haven’t been to the playoffs for a few years, they look at Pete Rose as a way to sell tickets and merchandise. For every Russell Wilson and Derek Jeter we have the contrast of numerous guys like Adam “Pacman” Jones and John Rocker; deviant and bad people can be found in all walks of life, the Sports World is no exception. But the love of sports causes many people to dismiss an individual's wretched conduct and celebrate their accomplishments while ignoring who they really are off the field. Meanwhile, the Baseball Hall of Fame and other similar Sports Museums have honored many individuals with deplorable behavior on and off the field. Ty Cobb was hated by many teammates and was considered a dirty player with a violent temper off the field. Babe Ruth was infamous for his deplorable actions off the field. I mentioned Lawrence Taylor earlier, he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with OJ Simpson.
What Pete Rose did on the field during his 24 year career was truly special and makes him one of the best to ever play the game of Baseball. But what he has done off the field, alleged and confirmed, makes him just the same as any other vile, detestable individual – the question is, how will you choose to remember Pete Rose? This week, the Phillies choose to put him in a dark closet till further notice so they don’t have deal with him publicly.