Monday, December 12, 2016

There’s bias at every base

Red Sox fans remember well the excitement surrounding Pablo “Panda” Sandoval’s arrival in 2015 as well as the disappointment we felt when he emerged bigger and slower to start the 2016 season. While big athletes exist in many sports, his proportions were worrisome in a sport where speed and agility are key. When his belt actually gave way in the middle of a game, the wrath of fat-shaming Red Sox fans knew no boundaries. One headline screamed “Pablo Sandoval’s Belt Lost Its Will to Live Mid-Swing”. Shoulder surgery ended his season and mercifully took him out of the camera’s range.

Last week — some eight months after the belt-busting episode — a picture of an almost unrecognizably svelte Panda was tweeted out. I don’t know what the number on the scale reads, but he may need to be renamed Baby Panda or Skinny Panda or Pool Noddle, but he can no longer be tormented for his size.

The interesting thing about Sandoval’s plus-size episode is that it provides us with the starkest example I’ve seen of a double standard I’ve seen. Even before the belt-busting incident he was absolutely tormented by the headlines: “…weight a serious issue”, “once gained 21 pounds in 21 days” and my favorite: “needs babysitter to control weight”. His weight is of course relevant to his profession — while five extra pounds are not a problem, forty extra will slow him down — and certainly his contract obliges him to stay in top physical shape.

I don’t ever want to be in the position of defending Donald Trump, but thinking about how Panda was raked over the coals, does anyone remember the pageant winner who was fat shamed by Trump? Are the circumstances different? Or does the media just hate the messenger?

At a time when everyone is still talking about the election that the media bungled badly and the epidemic of fake news, the term “media bias” is thrown around with abandon but I think most people have no idea what it means. My eyes pop out of my head when I hear, “I read the Boston Globe — the Herald is so biased.” Newsflash: everything has a bias because reporters are human and they write pieces from their own viewpoint. You may prefer one bias to another, but everyone has one. You can disagree with one’s perspective and choose only to talk to people who agree with you and you can choose to read only the articles that are pleasing to you, but it doesn’t mean that the opposing idea is wrong.

While this sounds a bit didactic, we seem to be on the verge of stupidity in wanting to block out ideas that are in conflict with our own. I am struggling to negotiate conversations with adults that I used to find intelligent and while trying to drill a healthy skepticism into my kids. I tell them to read what you want, believe what you want, but at least make an effort to a discern the speaker’s viewpoint and to think about why someone might believe something different. And of course, take the time to fact-check anything you want to share online. Unless it’s about super-slim Panda - I’ve seen the proof. Pitchers and catchers report in 60 days … it can’t come soon enough.

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