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Some Thoughts About Shame, the Astros, and Rob Manfred

By now you’ve probably heard about the Sunday press conference in which MLB commish Rob Manfred defended his handling of the Astros and their cheating scandal. “I do take issue with the notion that anybody in the Houston organization escaped without punishment,” he said. “I think if you look at the faces of the Houston players as they’ve been out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this.”

What Manfred is getting at in that quote, of course, is the concept of shame. Although he didn’t use that word himself, media coverage of his press conference has used it quite a bit. There have been headlines such as “Manfred Says Astros’ Shame Is Penalty Enough” and “Rob Manfred Says Public Shame Is Enough Punishment.” Similarly, articles have included passages like “Manfred said they are being punished through public shame, essentially” and “Manfred … wants fans to believe that a collective walk of shame throughout the 2020 season will suffice as punishment.”

The funny thing about this is that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how one of the defining characteristics of our current historical moment — maybe the defining characteristic — is lack of shame. Over and over again, we see well-established social and cultural standards of behavior, decorum, and right vs. wrong (or at least they seemed to be well-established) being transgressed, cast aside, or just ignored. Sometimes, as in the case of the Astros, the standards were codified into written laws or rules. But more often, they were just agreed-upon norms of behavior that evolved over time, with the shared understanding that most people would not violate those norms because that would make them subject to shame.

Those norms are now becoming irrelevant, as shame has turned out to be a fairly impotent force in contemporary life. There was once a collective notion of “You can’t do that” that held certain types of behavior in check, but now an increasing number of people have decided, “Yeah, actually, I can do that” — and it turns out that if you don’t have shame, there’s little if any price to be paid. We see this throughout our public discourse, including our political discourse. If you’re called out on a lie you told, just double down on it and tell it again; if you’re found to have engaged in a despicable act that once would have made your public role untenable, just power through the backlash until everyone has either forgotten about it or gotten too exhausted to care anymore. Shame? That’s for chumps and suckers. (This approach has now become so routine in most areas of public life that I was stunned when the Mets recently cut ties with manager-for-a-minute Carlos Beltrán after the extent of his involvement in the Astros’ scandal became apparent. I figured they’d just power through it until the storm subsided and everyone else would eventually shrug their shoulders.)

Shame is a fascinating concept and also an ancient one, as old as civilization itself. (As Mark Twain once said, “Man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to.”) It’s how we self-police our society, how we temper our concern for ourselves with concern for how others see us, how we develop a conscience, how we develop social guardrails to help keep our behavior from careening off-course. When we express regret or apology, it’s because we feel shame; when we know we haven’t done our best and vow to do better next time, that too is shame.

But shame can also be weaponized, usually by the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable (The Scarlet Letter is a classic example). That’s why there are now strong reform movements pushing back against longstanding forms of weaponized shame, like slut-shaming and fat-shaming. This reform impulse is also how the Pride movement got its name, because LGBT people were shamed for most of human history, and pride is the opposite of shame.

In the sports and uniform worlds, shame and shamelessness come up on a variety of fronts. Here are a few recent examples:

• North American teams and leagues have no doubt looked at their counterparts from other regions of the world for many years and thought to themselves, “Dang, I wish we could put sell ad space on our uniforms like they do!” The reason none of them did it for so long was, essentially, shame. Everyone, including the fans, understands that there’s no good reason for ad patches except greed, and greed is shameful. The NBA was the first league to say, “Eh, you know what? The hell with shame — we’re going to do it anyway.” So they engaged in a shameful act that violated a long-established norm and have paid relatively little price for it.

• Last summer, when the NHL’s St. Louis Blues inserted an ad for a rental car company into the color guard prior to a Stanley Cup Finals game in St. Louis, I tried to appeal to the team’s — and everyone’s — sense of shame as literally as possible:

I believe that was my most popular tweet of last year. I blogged about the situation as well, of course. (I didn’t use the word “shame” in the blog post, although I was clearly trying to shame the Blues and Enterprise.) Whether due to my efforts, or someone else’s, or maybe just coincidence, the Blues scrapped the ad for their next Stanley Cup game. Shame: Not dead yet after all!

• For as long as sports have existed, we’ve been told that there’s a “right way” to play the game (whichever game you happen to be discussing): Don’t over-celebrate; don’t show up the other team; play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back; when you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before; don’t be a showboat; respect the game; respect the uniform; and so on. All of these are basically different ways of saying, “Don’t behave shamefully.” And for a long time, that was enough to govern players’ behavior on the field. Those days, obviously, are long gone. Players now do whatever the hell they want, and their shamelessness often seems like more of a feature than a bug, as if they’re in a competition to see who can behave in the most shameful manner with the fewest consequences.

But I don’t want to make it sound like pushing the boundaries of shame is always a bad thing, or that behavioral norms should be set in stone. The threshold of what is or isn’t considered shameful — which usually correlates with what is or isn’t considered outrageous at a given cultural moment — is constantly in flux, and that’s often a good thing. At one time, for example, it was shameful for a man to cry, or for a woman to drink in a saloon. In the sports world, it was shameful for a football player to take himself out of a game if he was dizzy after a hit. I hope we can all agree that it’s good to have moved past those old behavioral norms.

Shame can also impose blinders that sometimes have the effect of quashing creativity, and the removal of those blinders can be liberating. For example, Oregon’s uniform program — and, arguably, Nike’s entire corporate ethos — can be viewed as an experiment in shamelessness. The whole thing is a giant, endless loop of “Hey, you can’t do that!” followed by “Well, actually, yeah, we can.” And while this has clearly resulted in some excesses, it’s also resulted in some groundbreaking design. (I’d say Nike’s approach to carpet-bombing its logo onto every available surface and engaging in cringe-inducing marketing-speak are more problematic forms of shamelessness.)

If past eras have seen the weaponizing of shame, it seems to me that what we’re now seeing is the weaponizing of shamelessness. Let’s use a military analogy: In war, it’s usually understood that there’s a fear of death on both sides — that’s an assumed behavioral norm. But suicide squads, like the kamikazes in World War II, disrupt that norm. If you’re not afraid of death — indeed, if death is actually your goal, as it was for kamikazes — you’ve basically given yourself a superpower that can be very difficult to counter.

Similarly, if people no longer feel bound by shame, or by the shared behavioral norms that shame has traditionally governed and enforced, that too is a tremendous superpower, one for which I don’t think we’ve yet found the Kryptonite. Basically, if you can engage in terrible behavior — behavior that would normally be subject to “Hey, you can’t do that!” — and still look at yourself in the mirror the next morning while the rest of us would cringe at the very sight of ourselves, that’s a very powerful advantage. That’s the weaponizing of shamelessness.

All of which is a very long way of saying I think Rob Manfred was full of it when he talked about shame being a sufficient punishment for the Astros. Now, it’s true that several of the Houston players looked uncomfortable when recently discussing the scandal, just as Manfred said. But I don’t think it’s because they were ashamed. If that were the case, they would have offered heartfelt, sincere-seeming apologies, requested forgiveness from their fans and fellow ballplayers, and acknowledged that their championships are now tainted. But because they are largely shameless people operating in a largely shameless era, they just went through the motions and sorta-kinda acted like they were sorta-kinda ashamed. That’s why they looked so uncomfortable — because their hearts obviously weren’t into that performance. (Manfred appears to be a pretty shameless guy himself, but of course that comes with the job. Goodell, Silver, and Bettman are shameless as well.)

I realize this has been a very different kind of blog entry. Thanks for your indulgence.

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Too good for the Ticker: Reader Chris Markham’s father worked for Kodak for 36 years. He was recently going through some of his old Kodak stuff and came across this Pirates-style pillbox cap, which he wore while playing for the company softball team in the 1980s. Pretty cool!

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FOCO discount reminder: Remember those oversized NHL hoodies that I recently raffled off? The company behind them, FOCO (short for “Forever Collectibles”), is now offering Uni Watch readers a 10% discount for anything on their site (including NBA bobbleheads like the ones shown above).

To claim this discount, go to FOCO’s site and use the checkout code UNIWATCH10. One use per customer, limited-time offer. My thanks to FOCO for doing this!

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Going, going…: Today is the next-to-last day to submit your entry for my latest Uni Watch design challenge, which is to redesign the New England Patriots. With the Brady/Belichick era nearing its conclusion, this seems like the right time for it. Full details here — get crackin’!

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Start ’em young: Twitter-er @jccondray, having already performed a logo-ectomy on one of his caps, enlisted his son’s assistance for the next one. How’s that for a heartwarming family activity! (And yes, they both gave me their permission to post the photo.)

If you’d like the share the joy of cap surgery with your loved ones, you could do a lot worse than to do so with an official Uni Watch seam ripper. Or feel free to grab a regular ripper at your local fabric store. Have fun!

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The Ticker
By Paul

’Skins Watch: An Idaho high school will continue calling its teams the Warriors but will stop using Native American mascot imagery (from Timmy Donahue). … The CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos have announced that they will keep their team name but will work to have more engagement with the Inuit community (from @TheRealTubesox and Wade Heidt). … A school board in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was poised to vote last night on whether to retire their Native American mascot logo.

Working Class Wannabes™: MLB star Bryce Harper recently says he loved his first year playing in Philadelphia because, in his words, “That blue-collar work ethic made me a better player. It made me want to play every single day” (from @PhillyPartTwo). … The rest of these are from Timmy Donahue, who’s been on a bit of a roll: Kent State baseball coach Jeff Duncan recently described his starting pitchers like so: “All of the guys in our starting rotation are very competitive, blue-collar people.” Note that he didn’t say they have a blue-collar attitude or approach — he said they’re literally blue-collar people. … VCU women’s lacrosse coach Jen O’Brien recently said, “I’d say [now] we have a clear identity: We’re blue-collar, we play fast, we play hard.” … An article about Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis — who’s the son of a Basketball Hall of Famer and has been playing pro ball since he was 16 — referred to him as “Indiana’s blue-collar star.” … North Dakota State College of Science football coach Eric Issendorf says, “I think that blue-collar work ethic and knowing and understanding the climate and culture helps [for being a football player]. … We really wanted to try to get some regional kids and like I said blue-collar kids.” … In honor of Presidents Day, USA Football posted an article yesterday about presidents who’ve played football. Naturally, the first paragraph reads, “Football is blue-collar America. It’s working class, working together.” … According to this article from December, a high school football coach in Michigan has engaged in a bit of cosplay by “introduc[ing] blue collared work shirts for his players to wear to football-related functions.” The article repeatedly refers to the team’s “blue-collar attitude” and “blue-collar mentality.” … The basketball coach at Amherst Central High School in western New York gives out a “Blue Collar Award” after each game. Winners pose in hard hats and sometimes with sledgehammers. … This article about the Prairie View A&M baseball team includes the following: “[T]he team appears to have embraced a blue-collar mentality predicated on effort, trust and a grinder’s approach to the game.”

Baseball News: Here’s a good time-lapse video showing former Red Sox OF Mookie Betts being Photoshopped into a Dodgers uniform. One interesting detail: Betts wears three stars on his batting gloves as a nod to the Tennessee state flag. Also: The Photoshopper added the Nike maker’s mark but forgot to eliminate the old Majestic mark (from @maybeifollowyou). … New home jersey for New Mexico State. … Reds pitcher Jordan Shafer was recently hit in the face by a throw from teammate Brooks Raley, who later gave him a facemask and an extra-large glove. “Haven’t seen any evidence of the mask being used during baseball activities,” says Joanna Zwiep.

Football News: One way to display your football helmet collection: on the back of your pickup truck (from Andy Horne). … Ohio State CB Sevyn Banks, who had previously worn No. 12, will now wear his namesake No. 7 (from Jason Hillyer). … New 125th-season logo for Clemson.

Hockey News: Devils C Jack Hughes had a jersey crest malfunction the other night (from Bill Fenbers). … The Predators wore their Winter Classic uniforms indoors on Sunday (from Wade Heidt). … Also from Wade: The Flames wore their Heritage Classic throwbacks yesterday. … Islanders D Ryan Pulock offered his uni number — No. 6 — to new teammate Andy Greene, who had previously worn that number with the Devils, but Greene turned him down and will wear No. 4 instead (from Mike Chamernik).

NBA News: Here’s a look at what the Kings will be wearing for the rest of the regular season. … Heat SF/SG Derrick Jones Jr., who won the NBA slam dunk contest on Saturday, has inked a new endorsement deal with Puma.

College Hoops News: East Carolina wore autism awareness uniforms on Sunday (from Timmy Donahue). … A contestant wearing an Auburn jersey on last night’s episode of The Bachelor had to cover up the Under Armour and SEC logos.

Soccer News: Tottenham’s new home kit has leaked (from David Morales). … Manchester United added a black armband yesterday for former player Harry Gregg. “He was part of the Munich air disaster and helped pull people out of the crash,” says Mark Coale. The opposing team, Chelsea, also wore black armbands.

Grab Bag: A particular brand of shoes has been banned from the Minnesota state broomball tournament (from William Yurasko). … New uniforms for Belgium’s men’s and women’s national volleyball teams (from Jeremy Brahm). … While NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin was being interviewed after yesterday’s Daytona 500 victory, someone held up up a cue card to remind him to thank all his sponsors (from Erik Spoonmore).

99 comments to Some Thoughts About Shame, the Astros, and Rob Manfred

  • Rich | February 18, 2020 at 8:43 am |

    Might want to take down the Texas Tech-Washington softball item because the link goes to a protected Twitter account.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 8:47 am |

      Huh. Wasn’t like that yesterday. OK, will remove — thanks for the heads-up.

  • Andy | February 18, 2020 at 8:45 am |

    Fantastic entry, Paul.

    • MJ | February 18, 2020 at 8:52 am |

      Seconding this. Shame is a lost commodity these days. I agree that there are some forms of shame that should have gone the way of the dodo (fat shaming, slut shaming, insert whatever -phobia you please). But a little shame can be a powerful deterrent.

      • Eddie | February 18, 2020 at 9:51 am |

        Funny thing is the celbrations in the NFL is probably the most shameless thing, the players have been doing. Nothing is more cringy than the group photo pose after a touchdown or worse an interception.
        The 49ers pose after an interception in the superbowl had been mocked since after that is when the cheifs came back. I’d hope those players on the 49ers have some shame.

        • Greg | February 18, 2020 at 10:07 am |

          Couldn’t agree more on the group photo thing. I remember this season being at the Eagles/Seahawks regular season game, and while the score made it appear to be a competitive game, the Seahawks were handling them completely, were it not for a few unforced mistakes by Seattle it would be a blowout. Yet twice, while trailing and getting their butts kicked, the Eagles got a turnover and proceeded each time to do a group photo thing in the endzone. That right there told me everything I needed to know about where this teams’ head was at. Pathetic.

        • Dave S. | February 18, 2020 at 10:44 am |

          Dude, every team does that team celebration now a days, it’s not endemic to the 49ers. That being said, I think it’s a dumb look, and I don’t like seeing big celebrations until the game is over. Yes, maybe if the 49ers focused on finishing the game instead of celebrating the INT, they would’ve won, but they’re far from only team to pull that stuff.

        • Eddie | February 18, 2020 at 10:50 am |

          Dave S, absolutely, I was just pointing out the 49ers example as it biting them in the butt. All teams need to just pull back a bit on the celebrations.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 9:07 am |

      Thank you!

    • Joseph Nguyen | February 18, 2020 at 1:29 pm |

      Agreed. I always think the best writing are the ones that are thought-provoking to the reader rather than sycophantic. This one definitely falls into the former (although I hope my agreement on this topic doesn’t make me the latter?). In any case, I know you said that this is a departure from the normal blog posts, but could you make the argument that Paul uses shame as weapon every day when he has an entire section in the ticker dedicated to the endgame of the Washington football team changing its nickname? Not trying to be combative at all. Just genuinely curious I promise.

    • Cort | February 18, 2020 at 2:03 pm |

      I had a polisci professor at University of Houston who required us to read the Book of Genesis as part of the syllabus for American Political Thought, because “it is the story of the birth of Shame, and Shame is essential to understanding the way American think.” He argued that shame was a tool that made a democratic republic possible: it drove voters to think of more than self-interest, and prevented elected officials from turning the government into a kleptocracy. When shame is absent, the prof argued, we fall into mistakes that have devastating and lasting consequences.

  • Scott Durham | February 18, 2020 at 8:50 am |

    The Clemson logo from the ticker is actually a 125th season logo, not an anniversary

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 8:59 am |

      Fixed.

  • MJ | February 18, 2020 at 8:50 am |

    NM State, not UNM, has new uniforms.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 8:59 am |

      Fixed.

  • Reverend Timothy Lovejoy | February 18, 2020 at 8:54 am |

    “Thanks to you I’ve rediscovered a form of shame that’s gone unused for seven hundred years!”

  • ChrisH | February 18, 2020 at 9:09 am |

    Somebody should have held up Denny Hamlin from doing donuts after he won…terrible optics given the circumstances.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 9:14 am |

      A lack of shame, perhaps..? ;)

      • Dumb Guy | February 18, 2020 at 9:23 am |

        Joe Gibbs has apologized for the celebration. They were unaware of the severity of crash.

        • Tim | February 18, 2020 at 10:39 am |

          And that’s been said over and over, but nobody seems to listen/care. Denny Hamlin was interviewed on the Dan Patrick Show this morning. He didn’t know what was going on a mile away on the track. When they found out, they stopped celebrating.

    • Marcus Ramsey | February 18, 2020 at 11:17 am |

      His spotter also took the blame saying he didn’t tell Denny because he ran to Newman’s spotter to ask if he was ok.

    • Tim | February 18, 2020 at 2:28 pm |

      Here’s the link to the Hamlin interview on Dan Patrick’s show

      https://youtu.be/mKIxK4EgZk4

  • Skyline Jackson | February 18, 2020 at 9:11 am |

    Great article Paul!

    “ I figured they’d just power through it until the storm subsided and everyone else would eventually shrug their shoulders.”

    If anyone has lived in a major apartment complex and management will not respond to any requests, they have felt this. In this case, it’s ”continue radio silence until your lease runs out.”

  • Bryan | February 18, 2020 at 9:15 am |

    The new uniforms are for New Mexico State, not New Mexico.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 9:17 am |

      Yup, already fixed.

  • AJ Kane | February 18, 2020 at 9:16 am |

    I really appreciated this entry Paul. You’re so spot on about how unsettling and damaging it can be when someone–particularly someone influential–thwarts a societal norm. If a person with power decides that it’s fine to lie, and does so constantly, it’s nearly impossible to stop that from infiltrating every other aspect of society.

    I also appreciate your mention of societal norms changing for the good–that part is really important. It’s what makes this all so challenging. Change is often good and necessary. It’s up to us as members of society to recognize which change is good and which is leading to the erosion of important concepts like shame.

    Part of the problem, in my opinion, is the way we communicate with one another in this day and age. Because so much interaction happens digitally, we often don’t see how someone reacts to something we say. And because we don’t see their reaction, we don’t know if what we said really crossed the line or not. We don’t get that instant hit of shame.

    You might enjoy this song by Lake Street Dive, which today’s entry brings to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUfMw-WGFGU

    Finally, if that leaked Tottenham jersey winds up being their actual home shirt next year I’ll eat my hat.

  • Dumb Guy | February 18, 2020 at 9:27 am |

    I feel the lack of swift and severe punishment for bad behavior is a highly contributing factor to the “Oh yes i can do that” world we seem to live in nowadays. I find myself sliding into a deeper and deeper minority of people who “play by the rules”.

  • Dave Tarr | February 18, 2020 at 9:33 am |

    Oh, my. Your mini-essay on shame was remarkably on point… and terribly depressing. I’d like to think that things will get back to “normal” once a certain person is no longer in a position of authority, but once that toothpaste is out of the tube… I just don’t know.

    • MJ | February 18, 2020 at 11:52 am |

      Politics is just another sphere with a loss of pride and the sting of shame. And it isn’t just this current administration; the loss of civility began in Congress decades ago. And it isn’t just politics; look at reality TV, glorifying what used to be shameful – morbid obesity (I don’t mean fat shaming is good, but neither is glorifying people who are 500 pounds or more, and unhealthy), teen pregnancy, weird obsessions, hoarding, infidelity (hello, Jerry Springer), absentee fathers (hello, Maury Povich), conspicuous consumption… the list goes on and on.

      • Dave Tarr | February 18, 2020 at 1:29 pm |

        MJ, totally agree about “reality” TV; I’ve never understood why people watch it. And the current resident of the Oval Office may not have started the incivility trend, but he sure turned it up to eleven.

    • Scott Criscuolo | February 18, 2020 at 11:45 pm |

      And it was only a matter of time before this got partisan, way to go.

  • RS Rogers | February 18, 2020 at 9:53 am |

    Fantastic essay today, Paul. I’d started the week thinking that my pastor’s extraordinary sermon on Matthew 5:21-37 was going to sort of focus my thought for the next week, but now this comes along. And the two are relevant to one another! An addition I’d suggest to your thinking about the subject is Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit,” where the philosopher posits a distinction between lying, which he defines as the telling of an untruth, and bullshit, which he defines as a lack of concern with whether something is true or false. Bullshit is merely useful. I don’t think Frankfurt overtly mentions shame, but his distinction between lying and bullshitting can also be defined as a distinction between shame and shamelessness. The lie is a lie because the liar cares about the difference between truth and untruth and thus feels some degree of shame about telling the lie. Bullshit is bullshit because the bullshitter feels no shame about what he says.

    Speaking of shamelessness, Bryce Harper has used “blue collar” language about himself for pretty much his whole career. He often talks about his ironworker father, and to his credit he’s done some promotional work with labor unions.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 10:19 am |

      Right, but in this case Harper wasn’t talking about himself so much as he was talking about *Philadelphia.*

      Glad you liked today’s piece, Scott — appreciated.

      • RS Rogers | February 18, 2020 at 10:27 am |

        Re Harper, right, but Harper uses the blue collar rhetoric consistently. In this case, he was broadening the attribution of the virtues he likes to claim for himself to describe his team and the city. These remarks by Harper struck me as an extension of his longstanding rhetoric about himself. (Also, as a longtime fan and observer of Harper, I tend to read anything he says in public as fundamentally a statement about himself. All the old jokes about Reggie Jackson’s ego seem to apply even moreso to Harper.)

  • François Vallerand | February 18, 2020 at 10:07 am |

    Wow! Everything I needed to read this morning. A masterpiece! Thank you Paul. Have a good day!

  • Greg | February 18, 2020 at 10:25 am |

    Interesting thoughts regarding if shame is enough punishment for the Astros, and if they really do feel shame. Yeah, the players don’t feel shame the way past generations of players would, as demonstrated in showboating and lack of sportsmanship, however, I do think in this instance there is a burden of shame these players do feel. They were champions, and now that is tainted because they were caught and found guilty of cheating. Instead of going around being proud of that championship, such that “they’ll never need to pay for a drink again” they know any time the championship comes up someone will mention they cheated. What might be their proudest accomplishment is no longer something to be proud of.
    Regarding shame in society overall, the past 5-10 years I have found the “shaming” complaints to be an indication of people who cannot handle other people being critical of their decisions. This is not the scarlet letter level of public shaming, but rather when someone legitimately points out problems with a certain opinion / lifestyle / etc. Lack of approval or critical comments are not shaming. Rather the lack of approval / criticism causes the person to feel shame they don’t want to feel. I think the modern notion of shaming speaks more about people that cannot handle it when someone doesn’t support them, and does not want to feel justified shame for their own choices.

    • SumusResNovarum | February 18, 2020 at 5:25 pm |

      I had a similar reflection on Paul’s essay, especially regarding the weaponization of shame. I think there is such a thing as bad shaming (his examples of men don’t cry and women don’t drink in saloons being good ones), but calling something shaming has effectively allowed someone acting outside of moral or social norms to persist in that behavior precisely because they can label their critic a shamer. I think fat-shaming might be one of the most illustrative examples. Someone going to the doctor and being called overweight isn’t being fat-shamed, but if that person claims to be so, they can ignore the legitimate critique of themselves and persist in their unhealthy behaviors. Slut-shaming, to a lesser extent because of who the legitimate critic would be, follows the same pattern.

      Shame becomes problematic when it is used by those in authority or power to marginalize or invalidate those of a lower stature than themselves. However, shame should be used to enforce social norms of good behavior and ethics. Those behaving unethically should feel legitimate shame.

      Case in point, the Astros should not only feel guilt for crimes against baseball (guilt being an emotion felt for moral/ethical wrong committed) but also shame for the social mores which they also violated as a result. Rob Manfred relying on shame as punishment without calling attention to their wrongs isn’t justice, it’s cowardice, because despite being the legitimate authority to do so, he isn’t shaming the Astros.

  • Terry | February 18, 2020 at 11:16 am |

    Would love to buy stuff at foco.com, but no Anaheim Ducks gear.

  • Richard Craig | February 18, 2020 at 11:35 am |

    This is an outstanding piece, Paul. It’s thoughtful, well-reasoned and strongly argued without being heavy-handed. I’m teaching two classes today, and will be using this as an example in both. I hope that, amidst the talk of bobbleheads, hoodies and seam rippers, people realize that you’re a hell of a writer.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 11:36 am |

      Thanks, Richard — appreciated!

      • eltee of DC | February 18, 2020 at 12:40 pm |

        UNI WATCH bobblehead for outstanding writing.

  • Cris | February 18, 2020 at 11:35 am |

    Where was this shame in 2018? Or 2019? Any shame that the Astros are putting out there isn’t because they feel bad about what they did; it’s only because they got caught and have to face the consequences now.

    • Dumb Guy | February 18, 2020 at 3:20 pm |

      Consequences? Giant paychecks, and shiny trophies?

      What has changed?

  • John H. | February 18, 2020 at 11:57 am |

    Paul, today’s entry is one of your best yet, and that’s really saying something. This is why I come back every day and will keep doing so for as long as you keep doing this.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 12:08 pm |

      Thanks, John!

  • Wallace B. | February 18, 2020 at 12:06 pm |

    Terrific and very thoughtful essay on shame and shamelessness this morning. But shame isn’t some passive ethical sea wall that erodes over time. It’s real people enforcing norms in real time. The crisis is that we as a culture have lost the practice of enforcing these norms. We’re struggling to respond to shamelessness. The news media have tried it when dealing with the Trump administration, to largely ineffectual ends. The drama of the upcoming baseball season is that the players seem to be taking up that challenge in something akin to vigilantism, an inevitable result when the “authorities” become brazen in self-interest. Strap in.

  • John Z. | February 18, 2020 at 12:12 pm |

    Great read today.

    For the subset of Uni Watch and Big Mouth fans out there like myself, I wouldn’t mind if the ol’ Shame Wizard came back into the lives of the Astros, MLB, and some of the other shameless we see on a daily basis. I’d actually be satisfied if Coach Steve’s Shane Lizard at least made an appearance for them…

  • Graf Zeppelin | February 18, 2020 at 12:39 pm |

    There has been a concerted, deliberate (and largely successful) effort over the last ~30 years, which intensified over the last ~10, on the part of certain segments of politics and media, to recast and transform certain traditional sources of shame, into sources of pride; to turn vice into virtue, and to make power feel like persecution. That, more than anything else, is how we arrived here.

    Shame is pride.
    Vice is virtue.
    Power is persecution.

    Ignorance is strength.

  • John | February 18, 2020 at 12:51 pm |

    I agree with everything you said about shame but, I ask, were the Astros embarrassed rather than shamed? Do the terms mean the same thing?

    Also, I’m of 2 minds on the Spurs kit. Often times the various companies get accused of making boring kits and this one is definitely not boring. But at the same time I do prefer the more plain, traditional look to a kit.

    • Graf Zeppelin | February 18, 2020 at 1:18 pm |

      Shame involves knowledge that one has done something shameful and at least a recognition of the need, if not the desire, to change that behavior. Shame can also derive from characteristics, as well as specific acts.

      Embarrassment can, but doesn’t necessarily have to, involve such knowledge, desire or recognition; e.g., one can be embarrassed at being seen at a Klan rally but not ashamed to be a Klansman.

      In other words, there’s a difference between things you’re ashamed of, and things you just don’t want anyone else to know, know about, or see. The latter category typically subsumes the former, but not vice-versa.

  • Jaye Mar | February 18, 2020 at 12:54 pm |

    The February Uniwatch pins with Lincoln and Washington wearing Uniwatch hats are as shameful as the Blues- Rental car flag incident.
    Is there anything left on earth that you can’t buy with a Uniwatch logo on it??

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 1:10 pm |

      Actually, I’ve turned down all sorts of ideas for Uni Watch products. In fact, in December I even raffled off some prototypes for products that I decided not to go ahead with.

    • SumusResNovarum | February 18, 2020 at 5:29 pm |

      Why? Legitimate question. Why is poking fun at a political figure, past or present, something shameful?

  • Jay | February 18, 2020 at 1:10 pm |

    Long time Uni-Watch reader (Since the Page 2 days) and it seems like I’m in the minority, but I’m not a fan of the “shame” blog entry. Although I agree with many of your points, I don’t come to Uni-Watch for social issues and politics. Yes, this issue does tie into sports in the wake of the Astros cheating scandal. But I’ve seen my interest in Uni-Watch wane over the years, and a very large part of it is as time goes on the focus is less and less on “Uni’s”/Sports related items and more and more on political/social issues and personal entries. I’m not looking to argue and I honestly mean no disrespect. I just wanted to voice my opinion as a VERY long time Uni-Watch fan. God Bless.

    • Jaye Mar | February 18, 2020 at 1:17 pm |

      Well said- and true. Uniwatch was a much better read when it actually focused on uniform design and changes instead of politics and selling wares.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 1:22 pm |

      Hi, Jay. Thanks for the longtime readership, and sorry to hear you didn’t like today’s entry — no offense taken. As I wrote at the end of today’s lede, I’m aware that today’s content was a little different, and I acknowledged that. I’m frankly a bit surprised (and very pleased) that it’s been, for the most part, very well received.

      The reality is that lots of people come to Uni Watch for lots of different reasons (not to mention that I come here for my *own* reasons), and those reasons don’t always align. It would be impossible to please everyone even if I wanted to, so instead I follow my instincts and publish what makes sense to me, and everyone can make their own decisions about whether that works for them. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you today, but I suspect you’ll like tomorrow’s entry more than you liked today’s, assuming you choose to check it out (which I hope you will!). Cheers.

      • Jay | February 18, 2020 at 1:29 pm |

        Thanks for the honest and respectful reply Paul. I completely get and agree with you on the fact you can’t please everyone. I also appreciated the blurb at the end acknowledging the fact it was a bit off-topic (and seemed as if you were preparing for some opposition to the post, haha). Sadly most of the world has forgotten that you can have differing opinions with someone and not argue/hate them for it. Your response is quite refreshing, and I will certainly check out tomorrow’s entry. You’ve proven to me that your willing to take some constructive criticism in stride. I’m long overdue for a Uni-Watch membership, I believe its time that I change that. Thanks again.

      • Skyline Jackson | February 18, 2020 at 2:15 pm |
  • Jim Howicz | February 18, 2020 at 1:40 pm |

    Paul,

    I enjoyed your article today. Some of us enjoy the blog because of our interest in the little details of uniforms and equipment and how that impacts play on the field. However, I don’t think you can do that would seeing the larger issues like economic and social norms are reflected through this lens. These norms impact the little details of uniforms and equipment. Why else would we care if a uniform incorporates elements from a city or state flag, or how a manufacturers logo looks on a jersey?

    Thinking further about the same while reading the ticker made me wonder if a large portion of what we talk about here is more about shame than I consciously admit. As much as I care about the belt tunnels on the Tiger’s uniforms, I also want to know about how many schools have indigenous peoples as mascots and if such use is done honorably or in a way that is harmful. These are value judgements made by me. I have always seen it as the blog shaming people for insensitivity.

    The recent discussion about blue collar imagery is along similar lines. I suppose you could say that intent is to just raise awareness, but there’s judgement too.

    In any event, its a good discussion and made me think engage in a bit of thoughtful reflection. Thanks for that.

    JH

  • Max W. | February 18, 2020 at 1:43 pm |

    Hey Paul, is it “the hell with” or “to hell with”? I’ve always thought it was the latter (saying something like “this topic/person/thing can go to hell”), but in your piece you said “the hell with shame.” And now I see that both are in Merriam Webster…

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 1:50 pm |

      Good one! Hadn’t thought about that. I think it started as “to,” but over the years it’s morphed into “the.”

      • Max W. | February 18, 2020 at 1:56 pm |

        An “I could care less” sort of situation? ;)

  • Peter | February 18, 2020 at 1:49 pm |

    Let’s not forget spearing…

    “You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.”

    • John F. | February 18, 2020 at 5:09 pm |

      Peter,
      It is a shame that you did not give credit to the great Deni Lemieux ; )

  • Andy Bakker | February 18, 2020 at 2:10 pm |

    Long time reader disappointed with the political commentary.

    • Tim | February 18, 2020 at 2:59 pm |

      To be fair, one link goes to a Trump article and one goes to an article on Ralph Northam.

      My comparison would have been to an article about the variety of mistruths which have been said/repeated by the Democratic Presidential candidates, rather than Northam. But hey, I get what Paul is saying. Our discourse and willingness to lie/cheat in today’s society is out of control.

  • JL Thompson | February 18, 2020 at 2:26 pm |

    Excellent essay, Paul.

  • Michael B | February 18, 2020 at 2:33 pm |

    What in the world did the Braves do to have to endure that photo catastrophe?

    • mike 2 | February 18, 2020 at 5:03 pm |

      They should be ashamed of having Native iconography in 2020.

      • Michael | February 18, 2020 at 9:07 pm |

        True enough. But they got drug into a shameless cheating scandal. Can’t believe no one noticed that this had nothing to do with them, but the indignity on several headlines is their mark, not the esteemed tequila sunrise

  • Dumb Guy | February 18, 2020 at 3:31 pm |

    Regarding apologies, there are 3 ways one can do it:

    1) “I apologize”. (whew, I’m off the hook)
    This means nothing. Two words doesn’t get you out of hot water.

    2) “I hope you accept my apology”. (see how heartfelt I am!)
    Closer to meaning something, but you’re still not forgiven.

    3) “I apologize. Do you accept my apology?”
    Now it is up to the “harmed” to answer, and they have every right to say “No”.

    Apologizing means nothing if the apology isn’t accepted.

    • Graf Zeppelin | February 18, 2020 at 3:51 pm |

      Apologizing means nothing if the next word after “I’m sorry that…” isn’t “I”.

  • Ted Mark | February 18, 2020 at 3:39 pm |

    Nice article on shamelessness and its prevalence in today’s society. Also, because of this site, I learned of the sport of broomball. I love this site.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 4:03 pm |

      Thank you, Ted!

    • Tim | February 18, 2020 at 4:11 pm |

      Played broomball late nights in high school. We stopped playing when guys began bringing metal mops rather than brooms…

  • Greg C. | February 18, 2020 at 3:55 pm |

    Really enjoyed that read. Thanks!

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 4:03 pm |

      Thanks, Greg!

  • Kek | February 18, 2020 at 5:02 pm |

    I have no comment other than to say this is really well-written!

  • Greg Lamm | February 18, 2020 at 5:05 pm |

    Your blog today was very interesting and I enjoyed it very much. It got me thinking about the Astros cheating scandal. I have used it as an example of the how our actions have consequences. I work at a military school and part of my job is to enforce discipline. We primarily teach life skills in the corps of cadets and part of that involves how to change behavior. I believe that punishment should never be the end goal so I try to use the smallest tool necessary to accomplish the task. The question with the Astros is has their behavior been changed and will it happen again? You can ask the same question of the players involved in steroid scandal and the case of Pete Rose. Have they been punished enough and should that punishment even involve being excluded from what is a museum that records the game’s history? In the case of the Astros manager and GM, the answer is probably yes because they lost their jobs. They will probably get another eventually but it feels right to us that someone was punished and it feels wrong that the players were not. But really, it’s not about making us feel better, it’s about the people involved and being held accountable for their actions. You can choose not to support them anymore or you can go to the games and boo them. But what did they learn and did it change them in a positive way? That’s ultimately what matters.

  • Todd C | February 18, 2020 at 5:06 pm |

    Paul,
    I just wanted to thank you for the excellent and thought provoking entry today. I also have wonder if this scandal may also effect attendance which has already seen a nosedive.

  • mike 2 | February 18, 2020 at 5:10 pm |

    Good post today.

    That said – I’m not sure I agree.

    Shame is a terrible motivator. If what’s keeping you from doing a bad thing is a sense of shame, I guess that’s better than nothing. Its better than doing the thing that would make you ashamed.

    The implication is sometimes that if there’s no risk of anyone finding out, then there’s no shame, and you can do the thing.

    I’d rather be motivated by positives than negatives. Be your best. Be the person you aspire to be even when nobody is looking.

    Carrying it over into sports – I’m a curler, I know Paul and Phil are as well. Curling is an honourable sport. We report line violations and burned rocks not because we’re ashamed of what will happen if someone notices, but because that’s the standard we set for ourselves.

    I guess that’s too much to ask in many circumstances. “At least don’t do anything shameful” seems like a sad second place to “be your best” but maybe its the most we can hope for right now.

    • SumusResNovarum | February 18, 2020 at 5:39 pm |

      Shame is terrible as your ONLY motivator – people should act out of all sorts of positive motivations, should be inspired to be virtuous and not simply avoid negatives. However, shame does and should act as a motivator in addition to those, even if just as a “fail safe.” In fact, the motivation to “be your best” implies that it would be shameful to be less than your best.

      I agree with your point that “at least don’t do anything shameful” is a low and depressing bar to set, but acknowledging that shame has it’s place as a motivator, especially regarding one’s status socially, is important I think.

      • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 7:40 pm |

        Exactly. Stated in mathematical terms, shame is necessary but not sufficient.

        But still: Necessary.

        • mike 2 | February 18, 2020 at 9:02 pm |

          Thanks both of you – great answers. You both put into words why something felt a bit off about today’s post.

          I try not to explore my “fail safe”.

  • John F. | February 18, 2020 at 5:14 pm |

    Paul,
    Like entrys that are too good for The Ticker, today’s entry is too good for the blog. I would love to see it as a NY Times OpEd.

  • Chance Michaels | February 18, 2020 at 8:42 pm |

    Great post today, Paul. Love to hear your thoughts on subjects such as this.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 8:59 pm |

      Thanks, Chance — appreciated.

  • walter | February 18, 2020 at 9:57 pm |

    One of your better pieces: Thought-provoking and genuinely concerned.

    On a lighter subject, why do schools feel it necessary to even *have* a mascot? I went to a high school where the teams were called “the Huguenots”, a reference to the Protestant French pilgrims who left Europe and settled in what is now New York. There was no guy in a fuzzy suit and giant head. I don’t even know what a Huguenot looks like. The one school in our region not planning to retire its “Indian” nickname (Nyack) limits the iconography to the word, superimposed over an “N”.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 10:06 pm |

      Thanks, Walter — appreciated!

  • Daniel Tarrant | February 18, 2020 at 10:55 pm |

    Agreed that Paul’s essay was well-written and thought-provoking.

    Personally, I find that “democratic rule of law” is a more civilized way of protecting social norms than shame. It requires deliberate thought processes and gives people a chance to know ahead of time if a certain behavior is considered to be unacceptable.

    For example, ads on uniforms. Paul and others might consider the practice “shameful” but pretty clearly the majority of Americans don’t see it as being that big a deal. I mean, I don’t like ads on uniforms but I don’t see them as causing anybody any real harm to the extent that something needs to be done about it. So I guess we are all free to try to “shame” NBA teams into removing the ad patches but unless the ads get to the point that legislation is suggested then I figure why worry about it?

    Sometimes “shame” seems to be a small group of people whining that a bigger group of people don’t see a certain issue as a big enough deal to act on it.

    • Paul Lukas | February 18, 2020 at 11:11 pm |

      For example, ads on uniforms. Paul and others might consider the practice “shameful” but pretty clearly the majority of Americans don’t see it as being that big a deal. I mean, I don’t like ads on uniforms but I don’t see them as causing anybody any real harm to the extent that something needs to be done about it.

      As is almost always the case, Dan views everything — *everything* — through a market-based lens. If something exists, then by definition people are OK with it.

      But that is a logical fallacy. The fact that something isn’t “that big a deal” (an inherently nebulous term to begin with) that “something needs to be done about it” (ditto) is an extremely poor standard for assessing something. Simple example: All sorts of people in all sorts of countries live in poverty, or under authoritarian rule, or in various states of dissatisfaction. Yet they continue to go about their daily lives, because what other choice do they have? This doesn’t mean that their dissatisfactions “aren’t a big deal” or that they’ve chosen “not to do anything about them.” They simply lack the means to do so.

      Similarly, the mere fact that people haven’t risen up in revolution about NBA uni ads (or about any number of other aspects of late phase capitalism) doesn’t necessarily mean they’re OK with them. It may simply mean they lack the means or the vision to do anything about it, or that they have more pressing issues that rank as higher/greater dissatisfactions, at least for now.

      Sometimes “shame” seems to be a small group of people whining that a bigger group of people don’t see a certain issue as a big enough deal to act on it.

      Ah, yes — the great silent majority, always a good argument of last resort. Your position would be stronger, Dan, if you didn’t tip your hand by referring to the other side as “whining.” If you truly believe you’ve staked out a strong intellectual position (and that a great silent majority is on your side to boot), you shouldn’t have to stoop to insults — that’s a bad-faith approach. Disappointing and, well, shameful.

      Finally, it’s worth noting that the supposed choice between assumed behavioral norms and “democratic rule of law” is an absurdly false choice on its face. The two are not mutually exclusive, and many of the things governed by the former are not subject to the latter (nor should they be). Both are necessary for a functioning society.

  • Daniel Tarrant | February 19, 2020 at 12:12 pm |

    Paul, I was pretty careful to avoid saying that there is no place for shaming in a free society…I certainly will defend your right to shame NBA uni ads even if I don’t care to participate myself.

    I guess my view is that in a free society, you sometimes have to put up with things that may not be to your liking but also may not really be causing real harm.

    I suppose you could say that much like “judge not”, I don’t like being shamed so I tend not to shame others.

    • Paul Lukas | February 19, 2020 at 12:23 pm |

      What you said — and I’m quoting here — is “I find that ‘democratic rule of law’ is a more civilized way of protecting social norms than shame.”

      That clearly implies a binary either/or choice, which is an absurdly false choice on its face. To repeat how I responded, “The two are not mutually exclusive, and many of the things governed by the former are not subject to the latter (nor should they be). Both are necessary for a functioning society.”

  • Daniel Tarrant | February 19, 2020 at 1:21 pm |

    I think I can agree to that. I guess it’s more the to the point that I don’t care to participate in shaming.

    Shame not, lest ye be shamed, so to speak….

  • Matt La Fon | February 20, 2020 at 11:56 am |

    Hi Paul,

    I really liked your post about shame. I think people really allow the “kinda, sorta” type of shame to occur at times, but I am encouraged with what is happening with the outrage against the Astros and Commissioner Manfred.
    I would also add the late David Stern to the list of shameless commissioners. Full disclosure: I am a Seattle sports fan.

    • Paul Lukas | February 20, 2020 at 11:57 am |

      Thanks, Matt — appreciated.

  • Daniel E | February 20, 2020 at 2:03 pm |

    I never thought I’d plunge this deeply into philosophy on a uni blog, but since it’s been brought up, here goes…

    You mention that what’s considered shameful is constantly in flux across different eras and cultures, and this is of course true. I think this flux comes from the fact that people naturally tend to define morality based on what the surrounding culture finds acceptable. Since every culture/era has its own unique societally derived moral codes, what one culture/era considers shameful another culture/era may consider laudable.

    So what do we do with this? The key question is, is there a genuine absolute moral code that applies to every human being on the planet? As a Christian, I would say yes, there is. It’s the moral code defined by God in the Bible. Since he made the universe, he has the right to make rules for us, and those are the rules we need to be following. Cultural standards matter only to the extent that they align with God’s rules. On the other hand, many people would say that there is no absolute morality that should govern everyone (for example, because there is no God or because God doesn’t care). If this is true, then no human really has the right to shame any other human for anything because no one person’s moral code is objectively superior to that of any other person.

    As a Christian, I believe God hates greed. So I can go to a greedy person and say, “You need to stop being like this because the God who made you doesn’t like it.” But if there is no God-given absolute moral code, I really have no right to do that. All I would be saying is, “What you’re doing is bad because I said so,” to which the greedy person could very justifiably respond, “Well, why should I care what you say?” If the culture surrounding me also believes that greed is reprehensible, then I could bring that into my argument (“Greed is bad because a majority of people in our culture think it’s bad”), but that’s a slippery slope in its own right. (Is the majority, by definition, always correct?) At the end of the day, if you’re not willing to base your morality on something greater than yourself or other humans, I believe you forfeit your right to shame people who don’t follow it.

  • Scott Criscuolo | February 21, 2020 at 11:48 am |

    What does “Late Phase Capitalism” mean?

    • Paul Lukas | February 21, 2020 at 12:10 pm |

      Google it.