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OpinionEditorial

Trust takes another hit

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane speaks at a

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane speaks at a news conference in Houston on Monday. Crane opened the news conference by saying manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired for the team's sign-stealing during its run to the 2017 World Series title. Credit: AP/Yi-Chin Lee

How did you react when Major League Baseball fined the Houston Astros $5 million and suspended the team's manager and general manager for serial cheating?

Did you shrug? Were you outraged? Did you say to yourself, well, it's just baseball? 

It's hard sometimes to know how to respond to the repeated assaults on the integrity of our nation's institutions. It certainly isn't only baseball where people break rules, commit crimes, or act dishonorably and profit from that. It happens in government and business, in entertainment and sports, in religious organizations and cultural organizations, in traditional media and social media.

The Astros were punished for stealing other teams' signs in 2017, when the team won the World Series. A similar probe is ongoing of the 2018 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox.

On one level, this doesn't compare to the Boeing scandal, where company officials deceived federal regulators about the safety of one plane model and two subsequent crashes killed nearly 350 people. It isn't like the daily attacks on our democracy conducted by some in government who stand to gain from the weakening of guardrails. It doesn't cause the pain and trauma experienced by victims of sexual assault perpetrated by people who used the power of their positions to get what they wanted.

But it matters, profoundly. Baseball always has been played on the bigger canvas of the national imagination. Few enterprises have been as mythologized as baseball, which has greatly benefited from serving as a metaphor for the country. What the Astros did matters because it's yet another dark entry in a deep ledger of travesties that eat away at our moral core, and at our sense that our nation stands for fair play and achieving success based on our merits, not on getting unfair advantages.

As a nation, we surely are imperfect in that quest. We have always known that there are violators of honor among us. In sports alone, we have weathered the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series, bribery and game-rigging in soccer, rampant college recruiting violations, decades of doping scandals, and two instances of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots illegally taping opponents' signals.

But if many of us once were more comfortable with our institutions, now the scale has tipped. And the anger many feel is inflamed by the sense that many perpetrators pay no price. Why were no Astros players, intimately involved in the scheme, punished?

The loss of trust is bad. Worse is the cynicism bred by this daily onslaught. We are struggling as a nation, and it's not clear how we get to a better place. A dose of healthy skepticism is required. Apathy, while understandable, is not an option. We should applaud the whistleblowers, truth-tellers and investigators among us. We should insist on high standards and rules to guide us in all walks of life, and push back against all violators.

"It's behind us," Astros owner Jim Crane said Monday, after the punishments were announced.

No, this is not behind us, not in baseball, not anywhere. 

— The editorial board

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