Uproar ensued last week after documents leaked by a whistleblower publicly revealed the existence of covert domestic surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency.

Shortly afterwards, a former CIA techie and high school dropout, Edward Snowden, publicly outed himself as the man behind the leaks.

With Mr. Snowden on the lam in Hong Kong, Major League Baseball announced the following day plans to suspend more than 20 players associated with the Miami Biogenesis doping clinic scandal – using patient information provided by clinic owner Tony Bosch.

These events have re-invigorated the perpetual debate over whether people who blow the whistle on inappropriate conduct should be regarded as heroes or traitors.

We’re all familiar with their names and scenarios in some capacity – Jose Canseco writing a book on steroid use in baseball, Floyd Landis filing a whistleblower lawsuit against Lance Armstrong, Bradley Manning providing Iraq War documents to WikiLeaks, or the legendary “Deep Throat” providing information on the Watergate scandal.

Heroic or otherwise, whether in politics, sports or elsewhere, there are few roles as impactful yet unenviable as that of a whistleblower. While many observers attach to it a heroic and iconic status, many others view the role as little more than a snitch or jailhouse informant bent on personal gain.

While it may be a stretch to classify Bosch as a whistleblower since he’s trying to save himself from MLB lawsuits, his cooperation will likely lead to the most strict and most damning enforcement action ever levied against players by the MLB in its decade long battle against steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.

Yet in the court of public opinion, Bosch will most likely be remembered as a complicit snitch trying to save himself.

The fate of each whistleblower, in a non-judicial sense, is determined by a combination of the individual’s likability, whether or not the information being provided is well received by the media and elite classes and, when possible to determine, the internal motivation of the whistleblower.

For every Daniel Ellsberg, Sharon Watkins or Floyd Landis who is lauded for his courage, there is a Jose Canseco or Tim Donaghy who comes out squealing at the last minute to preserve his reputation.

Though it’s premature to pass judgment on either Snowden or Bosch, it’s clear that being a whistleblower is cut out only for the incredibly brave or the incredibly stupid.

 

Aaron Stanley is a former Fergus Falls resident living in Washington, D.C. and an avid sports enthusiast.

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