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Josh Hamilton is Jordan Belfort, But Do They Care?

Why do the white wolves earn our pardons while others hit the skids? Why do mainstream sports journalists cover up again and again for celebrity sins while playing the preacher out-of-church? Just what altar are they kneeling at?

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The Wolf of Gene Autry Way?
The Wolf of Gene Autry Way?
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re gonna fail upward, it’s gonna take some shoulders to climb upon. And if you’re making a ladder out of men as you clamber up that tower, don’t bother thinking too much about how they might squeak as the heel hits the flesh.

The lie beneath last week’s dogpile callout of the Angels organization by oh-so-many pro sport journos with a muckraking itch is that most of these polecats really don’t think too much of Josh Hamilton. Nearly every article on the fallen Angel contains some variation on a moralizing stricture that goes something like: The Angels should have known what they bought in Hamilton. He’s an addict, his contract was absurd, and the Angels have nothing to complain about. The cynicism at the bottom of such a lecture is that any former addict is irredeemable; they’re damaged goods, and you get what you pay for!

Amazingly, the same scribes and talking heads that anchor their argument to this premise also manage to find uncanny reservoirs of empathy for a personality that they’ve already dismissed as incapable of redemption. They have essentially written off any possibility that the Angels, and in particular Arte Moreno, who openly shares Hamilton’s religious convictions, might have actually believed in second chances, and thought that this was a fundamentally good (if misunderstood) man who had turned his life around. And that after various unpleasant episodes ranging from fan-baiting to deferred surgery, from on-field ambivalence to self-destructive relapse, the Angels front office and ownership might be actually justified in being "disappointed" in who or what Josh Hamilton has become, and how he has failed to deliver on his part of a five-year commitment. Now, this isn’t going to be the article to extend this line of reasoning, but if you agree that Hamilton deserves at least some of the tough love that the Angels are dishing out, Jeff Miller does an excellent job of pressing the point in this OC Register opinion piece.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the particular species of moral (but creative!) ambivalence that permits folks like Craig Calcaterra or Ken Rosenthal to ignore the sin and champion the sinner, all while airing their pique and outrage over the cruel mistreatment of a vulnerable soul who they’ve already discounted categorically as damaged goods in preceding paragraphs. Moreover, it’s worth a pause to think upon their winning ability to ignore unquestionable asshattery like going to a stripclub after a fight with one’s wife to instead emphasize the tragic affliction of addiction (whatever its nature), leaving that to explain and neutralize genuine culpability. Think of the hypocrisy and latent misogyny in that: an evangelical partying with strippers, no biggie; tough love for a negligent addict from his employer, vicious and embarrassing!

There’s another domain like this where the sales job comes first and the ladies come last as (largely) white men-for-hire trade in suspect goods and speculation. It’s called Wall Street. And there’s a useful word for this phenomenon whereby opportunistic sleazoids and entrepreneurial confidence men alike build their capital by purchasing a low-cost, risk-free commodity (like outrage) seemingly out-of-nowhere, and trade it in markets (like sports media) where it’s in high demand. It’s called arbitrage.

Mainstream sportswriters – who have been chronically late to the game on everything from spousal abuse, industry misogyny, PEDs, and traumatic head injuries in professional sports – are purchasing piety at low cost (because what’s the risk of scolding a small cohort of managers/owners of an oft-derided Anaheim-based sports team?) and selling it high (and in high dudgeon, no less) in the market of sympathy for addicts.

Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton is also arbitraging in that market of sympathy, big time. Why do we care for addicts – why do we sympathize with their struggles? Isn’t it largely because addiction hits working and struggling folks hardest, and they’re often at risk of losing everything? Well, Josh Hamilton isn’t one of those people. In the span of just over a decade of irregular performance, interminable hype, and occasional real demonstrations of true talent, Hamilton has amassed a fortune in the neighborhood of $65M, and will build that to around $150M over the next three years. Anyone reading his biography knows how much help and supervision he’s had along the way, and what his family laid on the line to get him to where he is today. When he falls out of grace, it’s into the arms of doting intimates, elite attorneys, well-paid medical professionals and high thread-count bedsheets.

Not everyone gets that.

Just last week, I visited the offices of the good folks at Chrysalis Enterprises, a street-to-jobs non-profit focused primarily on the homeless population concentrated around Skid Row in downtown LA. While my day job is in product management for a familiar tech giant, I loan some of my "20% time" to our philanthropic arm, which distributes grants to regional non-profits, and earmarks a fair number of them to those seeking to address homelessness. Chrysalis can serve at most about 4000 folks in some capacity, but the demand is as high as 10000 in tough times, like after the Wall Street meltdown of 2008. Many of their clients have struggled with chronic substance abuse, mental illness and brutal poverty. The streets are theirs, and little else. The territory was familiar to me, as I’ve lived Downtown before and worked in care facilities in another life. But what was new to me was "The Bin" – a free storage facility in the form of a large X-Files-like warehouse where thousands of plastic garbage bins are arrayed in rows, each assigned to a single homeless individual, who can check in once a day to retrieve his or her only belongings, housed in a glorified trashcan. Without exception, every individual I saw while touring the facility was African-American or Latino. Some were clearly dealing with ongoing addiction, or were in some way living in the wake of it. These people deserve our mercy, and orgs like Chrysalis deserve your donations, if you can spare them.

While much has changed since the 1980s to make cocaine and its analogs or derivatives cheaper and more available, it’s still disproportionately a rich man’s drug, and a white man’s drug. A 2011 analysis found that 20% of white folks have tried the drug, while only 10% of African-Americans and Latinos have. Yet African-Americans still get arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites. We hear these statistics all the time, yet still dudes like Josh Hamilton are virtually untouchable, because they have their wingmen and enablers, both paid and volunteer, to make nice for them when they screw up and have to make a quick play before they piss dirty in the cup. The Browns, Rosenthals and Calcaterras of the media are part of that gang of enablers, and they paper it over with a convenient plea bargain where Hamilton owns up to addiction, but gets out of douchebaggery scot-free.

Regrettably, this all veers back to the great myth that there is one big immutable category of "the addict", or of "addiction" itself, and like religious conversion, once you’re in the category, you’re in, and all are at equal risk, and all are in for life. But Josh Hamilton isn’t "at risk" in any of the typical ways we think about addicts deeply at risk – at risk of poverty, incarceration, or homelessness. Desperate, uninsured, with few good leads on treatment? Not a chance. In his first real bout of addiction at age 20, he was immediately shipped off to the pricey Betty Ford Clinic, where all rich celebrities go. More recently he had an accountability coach that his employer paid for, but whom he chose to fire because he wanted more personal freedom. He isn’t relapsing in a dank basement, or shed, or alleyway, alone, just pinned to the fix. No, he’s off getting a lap dance, partying with strippers, where he just happens to add in some drink and lines to the pleasure trip, and because of that add-on, he inherits all the mercy of the commentariat like he was mere days away from limping into a sleeping bag under an overpass.

Screw that.

Let’s face it: Josh Hamilton is really Jordan Belfort. And fingerwaggers like Tim Brown, Ken Rosenthal and Craig Calcaterra are the legion of daytraders cheering him on. When he self-reported his lapdance douchery, it wasn’t a "cry for help" – it was a short sell, and given how he played the system so well, it was insider trading all the way. Even Martha Stewart gets time for that.

This is why the sneering tagalongs of the MSM have no real problem with a guy who throws his teammates under the bus with indifferent play and hedonistic night flights that violate his faith and the contract he has with his employer and himself. They get him. In the pixels-for-pay world, it's just a game of inches, and they think he’s just like them. They don’t care that he’s leveraging his wealth and privilege into an accountability-free zone where he can pay to use low-wage working women on the gray margins of sex work to give him a ‘breather’ from his tough life watching satellite televangelism in his SoCal mansion, or his 9000 sq ft Dallas compound, as his reality-tv wife shops and re-stages their luxurious microdramas for the basic cable audience. That’s just a sidebar. Real story is that Hamilton is just another white brutha who needs a "hand-up". Tim Brown digs that. These boys have memoirs to write.

Anyone "disappointed" by that behavior just gets razzies, because Josh Hamilton is in the circle of trust – He's. Just. Like. Them. All this piety and grandstanding rebuke? It’s just easy money in a news industry full of its own latent misogyny, personal power trips and substance abuse. Easy money, reeled in through their own game of arbitrage in the market of sympathy for genuinely at-risk addicts who have everything and nothing to lose.