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Stop Crying Foul

October 19, 2003|Steven Samuel

Is it just me, or have we become a nation of intolerable whiners, finger-pointers and blame-mongers? Wasn't there a time in the not-so-recent past when the consequence of spilling hot coffee on your own lap would be terrible embarrassment rather than a $3-million jury verdict?

The public skewering of poor Steve Bartman, the die-hard Chicago Cubs fan who did what any other person in his position would have done, typifies the reaction in today's world when things don't go as planned.

It used to be that the titans of industry would abuse their workers and cause them harm and the petty proletariat had no recourse whatsoever. Wage earners, or those nearby, were often maimed or killed or infected, and they would suck it up and take it without a peep because they either didn't know better or they had no choice.

But the pendulum has swung way to the other side. The slightest injury, or almost injury, now produces claims for damages. No one stands up and accepts responsibility for any adverse fate that befalls them.

Is there anyone who doesn't know that cigarette smoking can cause a litany of health problems, including lung cancer and emphysema? And yet we still see hundreds of lawsuits brought against Big Tobacco every year that claim it is that industry's fault that John Q. Smoker needs to take every step with an oxygen tank wheeled beside him and a breathing tube stuck up his nose.

Back to our friend Steve Bartman. The Chicago press has vilified him. One paper apparently went so far as to print his home and work address, as much as it hated to do so, in the name of fair reporting. The public has been no better. Beer and trash rained down on him as he left the stadium under police guard.

Since then he and his family have received numerous threats of physical harm, he's been in hiding and he's issued an apology in which he says he is "truly sorry." Jeb Bush didn't help matters when he tongue-in-cheeked that he'd offer Bartman asylum in Florida in the form of a beachfront condo.

However, if no one noticed, it was the Cubs' players who lost the game, not Bartman. Later in that fateful eighth inning of Game 6, it was the Chicago shortstop who booted a routine grounder like it was a soccer ball, thus keeping the Marlins' rally alive. Thereafter it was the inept Cubs relief pitchers who allowed the Marlins to run around the bases like it was a grade school race. And it was the Cubs' ace, Kerry Wood, who failed to hold an early lead in the seventh game, thus preserving Bartman's fate as the team's scapegoat.

Maybe this will be a defining moment in American history, in which the pendulum swings back toward the center. Maybe the people of Chicago will look at their collective selves in the mirror and decide that it's just not right to run Bartman out of town. Maybe, just maybe, something good can come out of this other than a Marlins ticket to the big show. So grab your Camel no-filter and let's see how this one plays out.

Steven Samuel is the author of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

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