I haven't talked much about baseball's steroid scandal and have quietly supported the players -- which is pretty much the approach that the Major League Baseball Players Association has taken. The union initially opposed random steroid testing. They said it was a violation of the privacy of players. But it's time for all of us to speak out against cheating.
I remember in 1988 when Ben Johnson ran the then-fastest time in the history of the 100 meter dash. I was 11 years old at the time and was awestruck—only to find out that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. Allegations were later made about the man who inherited the gold when Johnson was stripped. This was in 2003 — the same year when baseball tested players in what was supposed to be an anonymous experiment. (A June 16, 2009, article in The New York Times reported: “Under guidelines agreed upon with the players union, the test results were to remain anonymous but would lead to testing with penalties the next year if more than 5 percent of the results were positive.That is indeed what occurred. But for reasons never made completely clear, the test results were not destroyed by the players union and the 104 positives were subsequently seized by federal agents on the West Coast investigating matters related to the distribution of drugs to athletes.”) Continue Reading
The list of those who failed the test has been leaking out and includes some of the most revered players in baseball including Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. David Ortiz’s appearance on the list was especially disturbing because he had publicly taken a very hard line, saying that anyone who is caught should be suspended for an entire season – a much stiffer penalty than the ones that the MLBPA currently has in place. That kind of aggressive defensiveness is typical of cheaters.
The only way this will change is for the players' union to support an Olympic-style testing program. Until it does, the game is not a level playing field. And since pay is tied to performance, not having a fair standard is actually against the interest of the players. Honest players are losing money to cheaters. Honest players lose money.
When players sign contracts or even step on the field, they are representing themselves as honest competitors. When you step into a relationship you make a commitment and do so with the expectation of respect and honesty, that you are going to abide by the rules. Cheaters become remorseful only when they are caught. They make excuses for their actions. In sports, it's because they say they need to compete at a higher level. Their massive egos and inflated sense of self also play a role. Baseball was never the clean, all-American sport we'd like to think. It has always reflected the issues in society, whether racial segregation or alcohol and cocaine abuse. So it makes sense that the steroid issue comes at a time when we are assessing the economic collapse and looking back throughout the past decade at the warning signs. How could we have not seen Bernie Madoff? How could we not have realized the dangers of credit default swaps? How could we not see cheating if it was so pervasive in society? Americans are hurt by the breach of trust in baseball but many are also sympathetic. Why? Because somewhere in their own life they are also breaching someone’s trust – and they do not want to get caught. Exposing the cheating prevalent in baseball is a metaphor for the betrayals that we inflict upon one another every day. We are fascinated by these stories because we are fascinated by our own pathologies.