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Silverman: Unsubstantiated Rumors Have No Place In Journalism

Rumors May Not Be True, But They Attract Controversy
(credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

There’s a new trend in sports journalism.

Put a rumor out on Twitter or some other internet outlet and let it percolate.

It seems that it works best with baseball players.

It will get you known and it doesn’t have to be true.

Yesterday, Robinson Cano was the victim. A New York sports “observer” said he had an unconfirmed report that the Yankees’ star second baseman with the best swing in the game was using performance-enhancing substances.

That was enough to defame Cano and set the wheels in motion. Major League Baseball said it had no case against Cano. The rumor was not true, but there was still controversy.

Cano, who was friendly with suspended San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera (50 games for using PED’s) when he was with the Yankees, should not have to defend himself from unsubstantiated rumors.

There’s a rule in journalism. If you hear a rumor, you get confirmation. You don’t run with rumors and put them in print, on line or on the air. You get the information, then you get two sources to confirm the story.

That takes the information out of the rumor stage and turns it into a fact.

Cano is not the only one who has had to deal with this kind of rumor. In recent weeks, Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski had to defend himself from similar rumors.

Pierzynski is in a contract year and he has 26 home runs. He is 35 years old and he had never hit more than 18 home runs in a season before this year.

That doesn’t seem reasonable. How could a player reach a career high in home runs when he’s in the final stages of his career? Pierzynski has been in the big leagues for 15 years at the most demanding of positions.

It would be surprising if he could play another five years, but it is possible.

So the immediate jump was that Pierzynski had needed artificial help to get to the level he is at this season.

Never mind that he spends his time in the offseason working out and building up his strength to play. If it sounds good, go with it.

That’s not good sports journalism and it hurts everyone who covers sports and it can hurt anyone who is subject to such a rumor.

While the steroid era stained baseball for many years and there are now artificial records for home runs in a season and career home runs, it doesn’t mean that everyone who improves at any point in their career – or especially when the improvement comes late in their career – has cheated to reach that leve.

There’s certainly a possibility that that could happen, but you can’t just assume that cheating has occurred and then go with it on your Twitter account or your five minutes on the air.

Cano and Pierzynski are the latest players who have had to shield themselves from unsubstantiated rumors. They almost certainly won’t be the last.

Their achievements should not be tainted and obscured by those who either can’t or choose not to confirm information.

Are the reputations of MLB stars being harmed by wild accusations?  Share your thoughts below…