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A Call for Transparency

As a Bridge Winners administrator, I am in a unique position to see how the bridge community reacts to various news items: when tempers flare, my workload increases. It also gives me some empathy for ACBL administrators, who are in much the same position. Lately, though, I have observed a growing trend towards distrust of the ACBL and official processes. Be it the failure of ACBLScore+, the disturbing BoD motions that were under consideration in Chicago, the Passell case, or the rumors circulating about certain high-level players, questions are being raised daily about whether the best interests of the ACBL membership are being served by those in power. For a justice system to work, officials not only need to actually be honest and impartial, but they need to be perceived as honest and impartial. After the events of the past year, I feel that perception is turning against the ACBL. To restore faith in the system, the ACBL needs to reform by adding more transparency.

Of the events I just mentioned that led to this conclusion, the most spectacular PR disaster and the one that is foremost in our minds right now is the Passell case. It has been said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. The Internet, a technology that has improved our ability to communicate, has amplified this. When a cryptic blurb regarding Mike Passell being disciplined by the Ethics and Oversight Committeeappeared in the Chicago NABC Daily Bulletin, a firestorm of comments appeared on Bridge Winners. The announcement of probation for the #2 all-time masterpoint winner next to ominous words such as “pre-arranging a deal” and “ethical violations” naturally led to people assuming the worst. Amazingly, this blurb was apparently part of the official process, down to the exact wording. Apparently neither the people in charge of publishing the Bulletin, nor the committee members themselves, had the power to alter the text to something that would lead to a more palatable result, or to even completely withhold the text from appearing at all before all appeals had been exhausted.

Once Mr. Passell publicly defended himself, a similar firestorm appears to be gathering against the committee. Unfortunately for the people who served on that committee, the same regulations responsible for this problem are now prohibiting them from stating their side of the facts, making the ACBL case come off even worse in the minds of many. It’s already been over 48 hours since Mike’s side of the case was posted here, and we still have not yet heard an official response from the ACBL. 48 hours may have been a sufficient time to respond in the past century, but it is an eternity in this one. Perhaps the ACBL policy does not allow for an official response, but then this is part of the problem. While the ACBL dithers, minds are hardening against them as glowing testimonial after testimonial comes in on Mike’s side. And what of the people who don’t have access to Bridge Winners: what do they think? Not everyone in the bridge world has access to Bridge Winners -- nor should they. Mike appears to be unfairly convicted in the minds of those who just read the Daily Bulletin. The current process stinks. With almost everyone having access to at most one side of the story, it’s unclear who is right, but I know what is wronged: respect for the administration of the game.

Some have taken the opportunity to criticize Bridge Winners’s role in this process. Without us, they argue, this would not have been a problem. To these critics, I say: we are merely a medium of communication, and not the underlying problem. It is human nature to speculate, and that cannot be changed. Once that blurb was published, Bridge Winners is merely the visible tip of the iceberg that is the rumor mill. We’ve seen an influx of people joining our sitein the past 48 hours to offer their verbal support to Mike and several of them have said that they imagined the worst when they saw the Bulletin, but were ultimately relieved to hear Mike’s side.

The problem is not Bridge Winners, but the judicial process itself, which I find unsuitable for the modern information age. If Mr. Passell was not found guilty of cheating, then he and his reputation did not deserve to be subject to the vagaries of imagination and rumor.Either the matter should have been completely hidden from the public, or everything, including the committee report, should have been available for everyone to see. Half-measures are not sufficient when it comes to a person’s reputation, especially when that person's life and livelihood depends on it. With full transparency or full secrecy, Mr. Passell would not be unjustly tried in the court of public opinion for crimes he did not commit, an outcome that we should try our best to avoid.

Of the two options I listed above, I favor complete transparency when a celebrity player is involved.In a previous thread, I made the point that celebrities in general cannot expect equal treatment from the law in terms of privacy, since their status as role models has larger repercussions on the community. It’s one thing if Joe Bridgeplayer is accused of a Ethics & Conduct violation; it’s another if a member of the Bridge Hall of Fame is. The process should be different, as the situations are not equal. Only a handful of people really need to know if Joe Bridgeplayer is suspended: the organization administrators, the offended, the offender, and his or her friends and partners. It’s also possible a crime was committed out of ignorance instead of willfulness, so education should be more important than public shaming. But if a bridge champion is put on probation, suspended, or expelled, once all avenues for appeal have been exhausted and the decision becomes final, the public right to know all the facts should outweigh any right to privacy the celebrity has. His or her status as an ambassador and role model for the game overrides any personal privacy. With great fame comes great responsibility, and the top players all know it.

Yet here we are in 2015, and we still have a Star Chamber-like process thathas satisfied nobody: not the committee members, the accused, or the bridge community the ruling is meant to serve. When Mr. Passell himself felt it was better for him to unofficially broadcast his side of the story in a public Internet forum, it’s clear that the rules aren’t working. The question I put before thecommunity now is: what can be done to fix them?

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