July 6, 2014
I recently wrote a blog in which I talked about how we, the public, put our faith in well-known brands, perhaps more than we should. Even more than those consumer brands, we put our faith in our sports teams. They really can feel like a big family, to those who follow them, and although some people do genuinely adore brands such as Apple and other tech makers, no businesses inspire devotion from their users like sports teams do.
But that is just what they are, businesses. And as fans of the Houston Astros found out when the team’s database was hacked, we are not supposed to be included in everything that goes on. The leaks, on data sharing site Anonbin, reveal discussions about the cut and thrust of trading players; how deals are struck and how bargains are reached in a manner that sounds more like two mafia families trading turf.
The Astros were not at all happy to have such details made public. USA Today reported Astros GM Jeff Luhnow as saying: “It reflects the age we live in. People are trying to steal information, get information, whether it’s legally or illegally. In this case, it was illegally obtained and it’s unfortunate. It’s a very unfortunate circumstance when somebody illegally on the outside breaks into the propriety database that we have. Not all the information that was published was accurate. Some it was not. I really can’t get into what’s accurate and what wasn’t. But we’re going to pursue it and try to find out who did it and prosecute them. The FBI’s involved and we’ve got MLB security involved and we’re going to prosecute the party that illegally obtained information.”
Indeed, some of the more intriguing aspects in the leak have been outright denied by all parties, such as a phone call Nov. 15, 2013, between Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and Miami Marlins GM Dan Jennings, regarding the Marlin’s All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, and a potential trade involving the Astros’ George Springer and Carlos Correa. “That never happened,” Jennings told USA Today Sports. “It’s completely fabricated. It’s laughable, what it is.”
But the Astros have spent a lot of time since the leak apologizing to various major league clubs, and there is said to be a huge effort to protect data in future. Data, i.e. recordings of actual events. It is difficult to know the truth in leaks such as this, even if one’s instinct is to assume that denials that some elements are even true are in fact just damage limitation.
The likelihood is that like big businesses and politicians, sports teams behave slyly and do not want us to know about it, in fact it would be naive to assume otherwise, no matter how much we love them. Do we have a right to transparency? There was a reasonable argument when Wikileaks revealed intimate details of private diplomatic phone calls that much of that kind of work has to be done in private, and things are going to be said that the public may not like. Perhaps such secrecy is not quite so necessary in sport, but sadly to expect the openness and honesty of a loving relationship between fans and clubs is, well, to borrow from Jennings, laughable.
In soccer, FC Barcelona was once seen as the ultimate people’s club, refusing even to have a shirt sponsor because it made them less pure. Now they have not only that, but are dealing with major scandals involving the money paid in big transfers, such as that for Brazilian star Neymar. It is an easy assessment to say that in this day and age honesty is a lost art, but in truth not much has changed through the ages, except the public’s ability to use technology to find more things out, and share it with the world.
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