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Self Righteousness on Steroids

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Mar. 19th, 2005 | 03:32 pm

The oppressive omnipresence of stories and commentaries on the use of steroids by professional baseball players is a perfect storm of squalid self-righteousness. The hysteria grows to a Category 5 scandal as media and political attention seekers swirl together in a cesspool of hypercritical hypocrisy.

Horrified at Reading at Steroids?We are relentlessly fed stories with a simplistically stated, easily understood, good vs evil moral. We are treated to star gazing and star bashing: it's sport celebrity schadenfreude as an art form.

The American Way of Life is threatened!  Politicians are rushing in to save our youth.  Sports reporters are vigorously moaning about our lost national virtue.  (Sports reporters are our moral guardians?!)

The current national panic attack about steroid use is so over-wrought that real problems caused by steroids will escape correction. Unless some perspective and focus is added to the public discussion, the steroid cyclone will blow through, destroy some lives and homes, and then blow out to sea leaving the landscape basically unchanged.

First, I am truly not sure why I am supposed to be outraged. 

The fact sports stars do things to their bodies that I -- or any sane, normal person -- would not, is hardly a revelation.  Most all professional sports lionize people who do things that I think are pretty crazy.  Football players are injected with all kinds of crap to get them through Sunday's game.  Baseball players have frequent surgery discount cards and wind up cripple at their moment of retirement.

Curt Shilling is a hero for playing with an injured, bleeding tendon. Our superstars routinely go against medical advice and participate in contests before their bodies are well.  As a rule we applaud them for their dedication and bravery.  Think Terrell Owens and the Superbowl.  Think Curt Shilling's bloody World Series sock.

How are steroids different from competing injured or competing when you're too doped up to know if you're injured?  Neither behavior is one which I want emulated by children.  Both promote wrecked, used up bodies.

Sure, using steroids sounds like a stupid thing to do.  It's something I would like to see discouraged. But, why is this particular act one which I supposed to be so upset about?  Frankly, I expect that professional athletes will do many things I think unwise in their quest to gain a perceived competitive advantage.  Special diets, over-strenuous training regimens, unproven mega-doses of vitamins, and rumor-mill endorsed hormones are okay but any use of steroids makes you a low-life? 

Explain it to me.

Second, how can any of the finger pointers claim to be shocked?

A piano for playingThe moral charge against steroid use is being led by an army of whorehouse piano players, each of whom has zero credibility in claiming ignorance of the illegal goings on.  All of the accusers have either benefited from the use of steroids by athletes or now seek to benefit from their role in the anti-steroid attack.  They're not shocked.

I don't expect too much from profit-driven team owners or from their toadies in the Major League Baseball (MLB) organization.  Even so, the ladies doth protest too much methinks.

The management and owners of teams closely monitor the physical condition of their players.  They put health clauses in contracts and enforce them.  They know about weight, muscle mass, bruises, and complaints of pain.  The players are prized livestock.  All aspects of those animals are closely monitored.  A gain in mass is going to be noticed, and the trainers, managers, and owners are going to insist on knowing why a member of their herd improved.

The gentlemen in charge of each of the teams knew about steroid use for years. Even if the the managers, trainers, and owners didn't verbally ask their players if they were using steroids, they knew. Bernie Ebbers' "Aw Shucks!" defense didn't impress the jury that convicted him this week of massive fraud.  The collective "I had no idea!" plea of baseball teams leaves me equally unpersuaded.

Major League Baseball as an organization is simply the owners acting together in a group.  Baseball Inc. liked the way their stronger animals broke records and pleased the crowds.  They knew how and why the breed was improving.  They have no cause to be outraged now.

Needles with Money.The House committee that held hearing this week did a great job of grandstanding.  Nothing else.  Little information was uncovered, but Senator Joe McCarthy would have been proud of the innuendos and smarmy statements by our representatives.  Sure, Mark McGwire looked and sounded awful.  He sounded guilty, as a matter of fact.

But, guilty of what? Possibly of past steroid use, but certainly he was "guilty" of not wanting to be the public whipping boy of a group of self-satisfied legislators who smelled blood publicity. His Fifth Amendment-like responses in the face of the frothing mob may not have satisfied the lust of the committee, but it was a rational and reasonable response in that heated chamber.

Besides, how about letting Law and Order deal with crime and have Congress confine itself to law making.

The only moments of genuineness during the whole hearing came when the relatives of kids who had used steroids testified.  Those statements were touching and heartfelt.  There was no need to question the parents if steroids or other teenage angst problems caused the boy to kill himself. (But, it's a good public policy question which thoughtful members of Congress must consider.)

And the only real moment of legitimate legislative interest in the hearings occurred when baseball's much trumpeted steroid-testing policy was shown to be much weaker than touted.  Basically, baseball lied.  It turns out MLB is still willing only to give mild rebukes to steroid-using players.  Maybe dissembling to Congress makes MLB deserving of losing its anti-trust exemption.  I sure hope it doesn't indicate to anyone that Congress needs to legislate drug testing policies in sports.  Such an unreasonable intrusion on a private business (MLB) and the trampling of employee privacy is not warranted.  There is no public safety issue here such as the one which compels airline pilots to take a drug test.  Moral indignation and the U.S. Constitution are often incompatible bedfellows, and I know which of those two I want my members of Congress to snuggle up with.

My strongest contempt is reserved for those reporters who are now suddenly shocked by the clay feet of the men they have been idolizing. They are positively frothing about the bad example set by the athletes and by the dissembling response of Baseball. 

Excuse me, Mr. Reporter.  What about you? Reporters earn their money -- and have value to society -- only then they get the story.  How can these boot-licking excuses of journalists now change their tune and tone so suddenly? Have they no shame?

I am stumped at which is the more likely journalistic crime:  failing to find out facts and reading only team-generated publicity releases, or is it full-fledged reportorial group silence?  Each option has reasons to make it more likely.  Either is disgusting and depressing.

The jingoistic moralizing sports reporters have been drinking the team-provided kool-aid for many years.  Or else, they are finally opening their long-blind eyes and turning away from their friends/athletes with a self-serving vengeance.  My revulsion at either is intense. I expect more from reporters.

What Should Be Done?

Boy with baseball bat.I am over the sermonizing and hand wringing. We need to focus on the future.  No point in going back and trying to shoot the survivors.  No point in going back, re-writing the record books, either.  There's got to be a statue of limitations on rewriting sports history.  Who knows what enhancers Babe Ruth used in his day?  I say we leave all the records the way they are, or else we're going to start digging up long-dead Hall of Famers to test their bones for outlawed chemicals.  Let's give it up the past and change what we want for 2005 and beyond.

Players, managers, owners, MLB, politicians, reporters, and we, the watching fans, are all involved in this fiasco. Here's what each can do.

First, those involved in sports can articulate the problem with steroids. Then the they need to write policies that address the problem and make the policies public.  Is the problem only with steroids?  Or, is playing against medical advice also something which needs attention?  What other dangerous messages are we passing along to children who emulate the sports stars?  Whatever the sports folks decide needs addressing, let them do it. 

If the factions in baseball and other sports cannot agree on the problem or solution, then the public can make its own judgment.  Do we really care?  Do we care enough to stop buying tickets or watching on TV?  If we do, sports will change their policies.  If we don't, this teapot tempest is deserves no further action anyway.

After doing penance cleaning latrines in a slime-infested leper colony, sports reporters should be allowed to return to their beats.  If they promise to be reporters and carryout that promise, they will be invaluable in helping professional sports.  Their digging and questioning will help football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and other profesional sports have a true showcase for athletic skill. They can tell us in the public about the adequacy of the sports policies.  They can report on whether the policies are honored in their keeping or breech. 

There is no role for politicians.  Sorry, Mr. Congressman.  This is a business and private health matter.  Mr. Congressman, step away from the spotlight.  Put the microphone down, and none of us will get hurt.

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