Drugs Are Bad, Because If You Do Drugs You’re A Hippie And Hippies Suck

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So I spent yesterday catching up on a lot of work.  My father-in-law and I were building this huge cabinet in my upstairs game room that’s going to accommodate my large comic book collection, and that project took up most of the day.  We worked up until about 8:00 p.m., and afterward I grabbed some dinner with my wife.  We were both exhausted and I was starting to feel a little under the weather, so we hit the bed at what’s pretty early for us, a little after 11:00.  I missed two phone calls from my best friend, but figured I’d catch up with him today;  I also managed a whole day without either getting on the internet, or watching ESPN or the news.  No big deal, though — it’s not like I was going to miss anything big, right?

Whoops.

Imagine my surprise to see the big story that’s dominating the sports airwaves today, much as it did yesterday.  Following on the heels of more revelations about Barry Bonds’ misdeeds comes the bombshell from Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez, Bonds’ future heir as baseball’s home run king, also has a syringe in his portfolio, having tested positive for the steroid Primobolan as well as testosterone back in 2003.  The test was part of a confidential testing program that the players and owners had entered into back in 2002, as a means to gauge just how serious the performance-enhancing problem was in MLB.  I’m guessing we pretty well know the answer to that question now, if there actually was anyone who’d missed the memo.

There were 104 positive tests that year — who the other 103 players were is still a mystery (we can guess at a number of them, but barring any future information, speculation is all we’ll have), but one can think that before long, other names from that group will start to be made public.  There’s definitely an issue to be resolved here about exactly who is responsible for the information being leaked;  the test results were supposed to be kept confidential (that was a large part of the reason the players’ union consented to them in the first place), and this breach will certainly cause a lot of suspicion amongst the union as to the reality of future testing being kept confidential.   One has to wonder what was the agenda of the person who leaked the positive test result, and wonder as to why only A-Rod’s name so far?

Meanwhile, the fallout from the news is already starting to be felt;  blame is getting assigned, and A-Rod’s place in history is already starting to be debated and discussed.  It’s a sad day for the sport, as Rodriguez was supposed to be the clean one, the man who was supposed to make us forget all about the stain of having Bonds carry the torch as the owner of the game’s most sacred record;  instead, he’s just another one of the long list of  “heroes” who’ve only managed to disappoint us, someone who is at heart as flawed as the rest of us, and who made the fateful decision to put potential success over what we can hope his conscience was telling him was the wrong thing to do.

I’ve certainly condemned Bonds over the years — not only for the steroid issue, but due to his failings as a teammate and even more simply a human being — and I have no problem with hitting A-Rod with the same level of disdain I believe all the steroid users deserve to some extent.  But the blame shouldn’t be laid completely at the feet of the athlete who chose to cut corners;  no, you can heap it in a lot of other directions — and for one of those, make sure you grab yourself a mirror.

The owners in MLB, if they claim to not have had an idea about the rampant steroid use in their sport, will be lying.  It’s clear from the information that’s come out that performance enhancers were an unspoken reality in the game, acknowledged — if not encouraged — by those who owned the teams and the men they chose to run them.  Baseball’s managers are too bright (well, most of them anyway) to not have known what their players were doing to themselves — when your skinny middle infielder who couldn’t drive the ball with authority suddenly shows up to spring training crushing balls over the fence after gaining 40 pounds of muscle, don’t you question it?  Not if you’re trying to win to save your job, apparently.

And the Players Association is culpable as well;  the allegation has been made public that Gene Orza, the union’s chief operating officer, tipped Rodriguez off to an impending drug test.  If Orza had ignorance about the effect of performance-enhancers on the game, he wouldn’t be alone in the union.  The greatest shame of the union’s approach to steroids and other drugs over the years — an approach that has been as best ignorant and at worst irresponsible — has been to place the money gained from multi-million dollar contracts offered when a player’s stat line exploded over the health of its members.  And if anyone wants to question those health effects of performance-enhancers, then I’ve got a long list of dead pro wrestlers just to start your education with.

Finally, we the fans have to share the blame as well.  For too long, we’ve been like visitors in Oz — in wonderment over the tremendous things we were witnessing almost every day, but unlike Dorothy, we’ve never been willing to look and see what was really going on behind the curtain.  Not until now.

And, let’s face it — for too long, we didn’t want to know because we were enjoying the ride too much.  Back in 1998, I was like everyone else, captivated by the home run chase between McGwire and Sosa and the growing number of homers around the major leagues.  Chicks dug the long ball, remember?  And so did we.  Even if baseball players had stopped looking like athletes along the way and started resembling body builders instead.

In the end, we shouldn’t be surprised by these revelations — they are honestly a reflection on our culture today.  We’ve become a society of  “win at all costs”, and the actions of professional athletes should be expected to mirror that way of thinking, particularly with the large amounts of money that are at stake.  Cheating at any levels — whether it’s athletically or in school or in life in general is no longer something greeted with scorn or shame, but rather a shrug of the shoulders and a “Everyone’s doing it” means of rationalization.

Sadly, the news about Rodriguez, like that of Bonds and Clemens and McGwire before him, is a case of us reaping what we’ve sown.  In the movie Glory, Denzel Washington’s character Trip has a great line that pretty much sums up the steroid issue for me. “Yeah, It stinks bad. And we all covered up in it too,” he says. “Ain’t nobody clean. Be nice to get clean, though.”

When he’s asked how to do that, he replies, “We ante up and kick in, sir.” And for the issue of performance-enhancers to be put to rest once and for all, that’s what all of us — players, owners, executives, union, and fans — are going to have to do. But in the meantime, there’s a Ro-Sham-Bo Award to hand out for this week.  While Rodriguez gets to hold the trophy, unfortunately we all can share a little bit in it’s recognition.

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