I’ve never been much of a baseball fan. I love almost all sports and played baseball a few years as a kid, but for some reason I just couldn’t ever seem to get into it as a spectator. During the year of 1998, however, I found a reason to be a fan.
Over the course of the 1998 MLB season, two men emerged as epic rivals in pursuit of one of sports’ holy grails: the single-season home run record. St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire took on Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa in a race to 62 home runs (one greater than the long-held record by Roger Maris). The contest was fierce, and incredibly entertaining. Both players ended up beating Maris’s record, with McGwire edging out Sosa 70-66.
Today, Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids off-and-on for at least a decade, including during that 1998 record-setting season. He becomes yet another among the long list of suspected professional athletes to come clean about his alleged actions involving performance-enhancing drugs. And in just a couple of months, McGwire will return to baseball as a hitting coach for his old team, the Cardinals.
One of McGwire’s major public confronters on the topic of steroids in baseball was former MLB outfielder Jose Canseco. In 2005 Canseco authored the book Juiced, in which he admitted to having used steroids while playing professional baseball. The book also accused many other prominent players, including McGwire. Juiced became a New York Times bestseller.
Two years later, Canseco claimed to have a sequel in the works. He asserted that in it there would be evidence revealing that current New York Yankee (and one of the game’s best players) Alex Rodriguez had also used steroids.
Soon after Canseco’s comments, Rodriguez was interviewed by Katie Couric. In the interview, he adamantly denied ever using or even considering using performance-enhancing drugs. Just this past year, however, he admitted to doing just that.
Asked why he used steroids, one of the biggest sports idols for millions of children worldwide said that he was “under an enormous amount of pressure to perform.”
Last year A-Rod made $33 million in salary alone.
What does it say to the aspiring young baseball player (or to the rest of us, for that matter) when his hero shrugs off the fact that he cheated, then lied about cheating, in order to be the best? What does it say when after doing this, he continues on with the good life- taking all this in stride on his ascension to further fame and glory?
What does it say when a Canseco gets paid millions to cheat at a sport, then gets further millions to tell us he cheated?
What does it say that McGwire is being asked back to instruct a new generation of baseball players on how to perform the very act that made him famous by cheating? McGwire may actually be one of the few individuals who is contrite, rather than just sorry for getting caught. But is that honestly relevant to this conversation?
The point is that there is an undeniable pattern of rejecting integrity and being rewarded for it. And it’s not just steroids in baseball… Our record books are full of names- Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Jason Giambi, just to name a few- who have been caught cheating to get to where they are. It would certainly be naïve to think this list is even remotely complete.
Yet, what has it cost them? For some, it has certainly destroyed careers, brought shame to families and friends. But for many, it merely comes in the form of an asterisk or an after-thought. For many, excuses are made, attributions to the “enormous amount of pressure” they are under.
My one question then is this: how many young people do not or will not experience enormous amounts of pressure to perform in their lives? I can’t imagine there is a single one. And when the rest of them do face pressure, the message they are sent by this aspect of society is clear… Cheat and you will be rewarded. Tell us you cheated? Hey, we may even reward you some more.
*Photo Credit: Scallop Holden (Creative Commons)