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Steroids in Baseball and Beyond

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The whole baseball steroids furor is a wonder to behold. Normally, baseball holds little interest for me. I freely admit that I haven’t been to a ballgame in twenty years or more, not counting my son’s very brief Little League career. So, I resemble the alien that drops in to observe the local customs. Frankly, I was hoping to capitalize on the tremendous interest this story has sparked. I‘ve no interest in rehashing the grisly details, though. I just want to use the steroids-in-baseball frame as a launching pad. There are so many different directions to head in; I sense that this may lead to a series of articles.

Every single one of the thirty Major League Baseball teams were implicated in the Mitchell Report, which identified MVPs, Cy Young winners, and 31 All Stars. Almost a quarter of the 89 names were either active or former Yankees, which should cast aspersions on the legitimacy of their ‘90s dynasty. But if we look a little closer, we see serious flaws in the Report. Almost half of those named are already retired from the game. In addition, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News,

All it did was throw mud on those who were unfortunate enough to be tied to Radomski [the NY Mets clubhouse attendant who cooperated with the investigators as part of a plea bargain in his federal case of steroid distribution]. Everybody else who used steroids in the past 15 years but got it elsewhere escaped scrutiny, scot-free. No wonder Mitchell wanted Selig to forgo suspensions.
José Conseco has claimed that as much as 85% of the league used steroids. If this figure is even remotely accurate, those fingered in the probe were just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. And Deveney’s “everybody else” are part of an exceedingly large group of scofflaws. So much for the Mitchell team’s methodology. Twenty months and $20 million didn’t yield much more than would a reading of Conseco’s book and Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports by two award-winning investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle.

With all the fan outrage and media hoopla, it is generally recognized that the reputation of the sport has been badly tarnished. Predictions are, however, that baseball will continue to flourish, its bottom line strong.

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How is that possible? An AP story at ChicagoTribune.com captures that dichotomy well. Selig’s Support Strong in Baseball reads, in part,

Two things matter most in professional sports: winning and profits. More clubs have a chance to win the World Series because of revenue-sharing rules negotiated during his 15-year tenure. And the league set attendance records in 2007, topping $6 billion in revenue. “He has total support of the ownership, total support,” Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said.

The article ends with a quote from former commissioner Fay Vincent: ”How can you get people to stop cheating when the financial rewards for cheating are so enormous?”

Record-breaking attendance four years in a row and 80 million tickets sold in 2007 were powerful motivation for owners and management to continue to ignore the widespread use of performance-enhancing substances taking place in clubhouses across the nation. The accusations made by José Conseco in Juiced and the threat of further involvement by Congress precipitated the Mitchell Report, not soul-searching on the part of the league.

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Legitimate questions remain: How do we evaluate baseball’s recent past in light of these revelations? How far back should we look critically? Which records should be allowed to stand? And what of our impressionable youth? What lessons does this teach them?

According to the Mitchell Report, high school students are no strangers to steroids. In a DallasNews.com series, The Secret Edge – Steroids in High Schools, a university doctor states, "If you don't give your kid a moral foundation from which to make important life decisions and you continue to deliver ambivalent messages, if your message is win at all costs, then I think drug use is rational."

Kids, who think they’ll live forever, are even less likely than adults to focus on the real health risks that steroid use presents: from the annoying: like baldness and severe acne, to the serious: impotency, infertility, permanently stunted height, and violent mood swings, to the life-threatening: tumors of the liver, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. Dreams of success at the professional level, however unrealistic, are just too beguiling.

Baseball’s fall from grace begat a media circus that has sold lots of papers and advertising. The story has all the ingredients of a blockbuster – money, greed, drugs, illegal doings, professional athletes, revelations and cover-ups, the once mighty brought low. The Chicago Tribune ran dozens of stories, not just in the sports section, but on the front page, in the business section, the editorial page and many letters to the editor. The New York Times also carried numerous stories, again, not restricted to the sports page. Television sports and news programs were saturated with the story. Two million fans downloaded the 409-page report within a few days of its release. Remember the Red Sox fans in “Fever Pitch”? In real life as well as on the silver screen, we Americans clearly take our sports seriously.

Steroid stories outside of sports

Around the same time that this story was dominating the airwaves, others were slipping through the cracks. Sean Gonsalves of AlterNet.org identifies two other incidents involving steroid use. “Juicing up baseball players and mercenary soldiers” reveals that the NYPD is now considering introducing steroid testing. This comes after the revelation that twenty-seven of New York’s finest were fingered in a recent sting of “a pro sports steroid ring.”

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The second story involves Blackwater, our unofficial representatives overseas. Allegedly, management turns a blind eye to widespread steroid abuse. An official inquiry was launched following an incident in Baghdad in September in which Blackwell soldiers fired, unprovoked, on unarmed civilians.

The First Amended Complaint filed two weeks ago alleges: "Blackwater routinely deploys heavily-armed 'shooters' in the streets of Baghdad with the knowledge that up to 25 percent of them are chemically influenced by steroids or other judgment-altering substances, and fails to take effective steps to stop and test for drug use."

It is an extremely bad idea to combine weapons with the same drugs that can induce paranoia, violent mood swings, impaired judgment, irrational behavior, and suicidal tendencies. Millionaire ballplayers trading their integrity for a shot at the gold ring seems like child’s play by comparison. I’m hardly condoning MLB behavior, only offering a larger perspective. I fear that it will take even more ‘incidents’ with predictably tragic results to catapult these stories to the headlines where they belong.

”Bread and circuses” can be defined as

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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