Searching for compassion in light of some tough stories [Commentary]

Something my favorite aunt used to tell me, and this is one of the only old-timey aphorisms that I still hold dear, was "be kind to other people, because they've had their troubles, too." Serving time as a police and fire reporter in the early segment of my journalistic career helped to cement that thought, as I got to hear about and read the back stories of people who'd committed some serious crimes. The stories were all fairly similar, but while analyzing them to help build up information for the articles I was writing, I'd think about what my aunt had said, and it occurred to me that nobody really tries to put themselves on the wrong side of the law, or in the crosshairs of other people's anger, or, more generally, in negative situations. And, nobody designs their life so that they'll be seen as evil by others. Usually, it's just a lot of bad decisions, compounding upon one another, that get people to that point.

Call it compassion, and some days I have none of it, but, as my aunt would have liked, when I hear about some vile act, I try to put myself in the shoes of the alleged perpetrator, to see if maybe their hand was forced, or if some horrible circumstance of their life caused them to fly off the tracks. Sometimes I end up sympathizing with the person, and sometimes I say, "they're getting just what they deserve." Two stories I've been mulling over this week, one old and the other new, have had me going through my compassion checklist, and I'm not feeling any better toward the people at the center of said tales.

I had the pleasure to interview former John Carroll baseball standout Brendan Butler earlier this week for a story I'm doing on his current team, the Towson Tigers. As you can read elsewhere in this sports section, this season Butler and his teammates won the Colonial Athletic Association championship and received a berth in the NCAA Division I tournament, in which they held their own against the top-ranked team in the nation, North Carolina. They had a pretty good year, considering they were told before one of their early-season games that the entire baseball program was being cut.

Towson president Maravene Loeschke broke the news to the baseball and soccer teams on Friday, March 8 that, because of budget constraints, they would no longer have a home at the university. Now, that's bad, but, according to first-hand accounts, Loeschke attended the meeting with a police escort. I have a very strong cowardly streak in me, so, if I were a university president who had to tell 50-some people that they needed to find other schools to play at, I'd probably do it via e-mail, or memo, or anything where I didn't have to look the athletes in the eye. But, if I worked up the courage to tell them the bad news in person, like they deserve, I sure wouldn't come into the room with cops on both of my elbows, as if someone might try to stab me (which, though an extreme example, is what you're saying when you do something like that). I don't know if Loeschke had received threats in the days leading up to that meeting, or if she'd been tipped off that somebody might try something extreme, but if either of those was the case, then she should have stated it. As it stands, she insulted a room full of student athletes. You're the president of the university. The decision, ultimately, was yours. You walk into the room, by yourself, and say, "I know you all work very hard, but we don't have the money to support your programs. I'm sorry."

That happened three months ago, so it's been talked to death already, but Major League Baseball's latest drug scandal is somewhat more fresh. To keep it short, there's about 20 major leaguers who have been linked to a clinic in Florida that allegedly supplied performance enhancing drugs, and everyone involved is looking at long suspensions. Now, I've read widely on the steroid and doping culture in baseball and professional cycling, and, though it is cheating in its worst form, there is an element of sadness to the story. These young people who basically turn themselves inside out, every day of their entire lives, and still have to face the fact that they're one muscle pull away from a ruined career, are offered a magic pill, one that will take some of the worry away. I'm not a professional athlete, but I've dealt with enough of them that I have an idea the kind of pressure they're constantly under, so I can't say what I'd do if I were in their position.

On the other hand, if you get caught using PEDs, especially after the BALCO scandal nearly ruined baseball, I refer back to my earlier thought. You're getting exactly what you deserve. I don't think a 100-game suspension, which is the heftiest penalty being handed down, supposedly, covers it.

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