by Dariela Rodriguez, Ph.D.
“This is important. You must care. You need to stop enabling the cheaters the way we used to. You have to root, root, root just as hard for the game itself as you do for the players.” ESPN’s Steve Wulf’s words to the fans of Major League Baseball (MLB) are a plea for fans to keep fighting for a cleaner sport, a return to the integrity that was once a part of the sport. Yes professional baseball has had it’s share of scandal in the past, the 1919 World Series fix by members of the Chicago White Sox and the Pete Rose gambling controversy, however baseball has never seen the problems that steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs, present to the sport. What makes this problem so dangerous for the MLB is the scope of the problem. The current PED scandal involving Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis of America includes, at the current number, 19 MLB players and 1 minor league player. According to the Mitchell Report in 2007, some 62 MLB players were have found to have purchased PEDs in the past, showing that this is clearly a problem that is not showing improvement even though MLB authorities are working to punish players for their attempts to cheat. The issue is not just that players are using PEDs, this is clearly a problem in many sports beyond baseball, but more so for the fact that there does not seem to be a consequence sufficient to serve as a deterrent. So the question needs to be asked…why are so many players willing to sacrifice an opportunity to play professional sports by using PEDs?
Before we address the question of why, we can probably answer the question of how are so many able to get away with using PEDs to gain an advantage long enough to make is worth the risk. Wulf’s words were intended as a rallying call for fans to not lose focus and become complacent with the constant scandals that seem to be becoming the norm in baseball. His words can be seen to make sure fans become as outraged as fans were after the 1919 World Series scandal, a call for them to be more concerned about the problems that these drugs are causing for the sport of baseball and not just for their team’s season. But when it comes to a comparison, we are not in 1919 anymore. During the World Series scandal, scandal was not common in professional sports, nor did it involve multiple players from multiple teams. It was easy to be outraged because scandal was rare, this is no longer the case. Today we turn on the television and it is almost more surprising to not see athletes linked to drugs, crime, or general misbehaviors. If fans are getting complacent to these issues, it is not a lack of love for the sport, it might be so we can continue to tolerate watching sports. It might be so fans can still, in good conscious pay high ticket prices to pay the salaries of these athletes that are essentially stealing from them.
Baseball was always seen as the All-American sport. Despite the diversity that is present in the clubhouse, the saying still goes, there is nothing more American than baseball and apple pie. So what does it say about American sports if so many players are cheating and getting away with millions in the process? In the past, cheaters in baseball were banned from the sport for life, taking away to privilege to make a living by playing a game. That is still what many sports still do. Look at Lance Armstrong or Marion Jones. Armstrong is no longer allowed to compete in cycling, armature or professionally. Jones was stripped of her Olympic medals and her records and had to turn to basketball to attempt a profession sports comeback. So why is baseball backing down on the life-time bans that it was willing to hand down in the past? Is it the money that these players bring to the teams that makes many of the management look the other way when it comes to testing? Major League Baseball seems to want to make the efforts to fix the problem, but without the help of the team management, this is not possible. And in many cases, such as Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens, the teams are not shying away from signing players known to have used PEDs in the past.
Most recently, it seems like the MLB and the teams were working to together to properly punish players found to have used PEDs in order to show that there are consequences for breaking the rules. For example, Melky Cabrera was suspended by the MLB for 50 games during the 2012 season for using PEDs and, upon being reinstated after serving his suspension, the San Francisco Giants did not add him to their playoff roster as they advanced to the World Series. With this suspension, it seemed like the MLB, and the Giants, were doing the right things by punishing a player for drug use. However, the awarding of Cabrera with a World Series ring after the Giants won did seem like a step back. He did not help his team get to the playoffs as he was suspended, nor was he playing to win them the title, but he was rewarded with a championship anyway. Now Cabrera is again collecting millions as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, and is also linked once again to PEDs in the Bosch scandal. Under the MLBPA agreement, Cabrera can be suspended for 100 games, essentially a season long suspension, if he is found guilty in the Bosch affair, but he could still play and get paid the next season. So now the question shifts to why not use PEDs if it gives you the chance to become a millionaire in the process?
If the MLB and the teams do not come together to fix this problem, they might as well come together and allow for PED use in baseball. Players see it as a way to make it to the big leagues and make the big-time money they have dreamed of, and without the risk of having to give up the game they love. Without the risk of losing their opportunity to play, and therefore the opportunity to make a living at the sport, more and more professional athletes are starting to look at PEDs as just another means to an end. If serious consequences are not handed down, the league risks losing integrity and so with it they risk jeopardizing the integrity of the sport. Wulf’s words to the fans need to be directed to the powers that be as well, “root, root, root just as hard for the game itself,” because in the end, that is the true victim.