Tuesday February 15th, 2011

If one listens to sports talk radio in New York City, he would think Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the father and son multimillionaires running (or some would say, destroying) the New York Mets, served as Bernie Madoff's personal sidekicks. They worked alongside the man, plotted his investment evils, went client by client in a devilish spree to rob from the rich and give to the Mets.

Here in the Big Apple, where little crap is taken and much trash talk is spewed, the Wilpons must have known about Madoff's now-infamous Ponzi scheme from hell. How, after all, couldn't they? Money doesn't just materialize from thin air. As the profits were rolling in and dollar bills were dropping from the sky like yellowed fall leaves, is it reasonable to think the Wilpons assumed nothing fishy was going on?

Does that make any sense?

When phrased in such a way by any number of the city's loud, cartoonish, obnoxious, self-righteous sports radio hosts, the questions answer themselves: Guilty! The Wilpons must be guilty! Burn them at the stake! Make them take BP against Doug Sisk! Off with their ...

Alas, it's not so simple.

Those accusing the Wilpons of fraud and, to a certain degree, theft are somehow overlooking the fact that, if they're guilty, so are many of the approximately 13,500 other clients who invested with Bernie Madoff.

They, too, believed the numbers.

They, too, thought Madoff was gifted with a wizard's touch and a Stephen Hawking IQ.

They, too, went along for the ride.

"It's very easy in hindsight to say everyone should have known," a person close to the situation told the New York Daily News. "Bernie Madoff was a luminary. He was the last person you would have suspected of fraud."

Did the Wilpons realize what Madoff was up to? That the bulk of their earnings derived from the dwindling fictitious fortunes of others? Personally, I doubt it. To engage in such behavior would be to support a genre of deception so heinous that, in certain (misguided) circles, it has drawn analogies to history's worst slaughterers.

What I don't doubt, however, is that when it comes to the rich and famous, we eagerly accuse, damn and ridicule. And when it comes to ourselves, we, ahem, make excuses.

Like many New Yorkers, I know a handful of people who invested with Madoff. They are real estate agents and small business owners, accountants and retirees. When my friends and family members learned of their involvement with what a person accurately described on elitetrader.com as "the worst of human slime," our immediate reaction wasn't scorn or condemnation, but sympathy. Not once did I assume that they suspected Madoff's corruption. Hell, if I invested with a man and the returns piled up, I'd be thrilled, too.

Yet the Wilpons, because they are the Wilpons, are guilty. In the minds of Mets fans (an angry group to begin with), they need to close up shop, sell the team and catch the next flight to Jakarta.

We need to chill.

A couple of days ago, while performing an Aretha Franklin tribute at the Grammy Awards, Christina Aguilera tripped as she walked offstage. It was a simple stumble -- awkward step, ankle twist, down to the floor. Had it happened to you or me or anyone not named Christina Aguilera, the embarrassing two seconds are brushed off with a laugh. But because Aguilera is a celebrity, she was immediately mocked across the Twitter universe. People used the accident to ridicule her weight, her makeup, her outfit.

This is what we do. When a close friend of mine cheated on his wife with a co-worker, I asked him if he was OK, if his family would survive. When Tiger Woods cheated on his wife, I (wrongly) joined the chorus of predictability by mocking his makeup and moral core. When Robert Green, Britain's goaltender in last year's World Cup, let an easy ball slip through his hands against the United States, he was browbeaten and lambasted by a nation hungry for soccer glory. Yet when Biff Smith, office assistant, accidentally forgets to load the copy machine, or Jill Murray, legal clerk, misses a meeting, or Frank Zaccheo, plumber, leaves behind a clogged toilet, he/she carries on with life. Hey, mistakes happen.

Who am I to judge?

Who is anyone to judge?

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