THE BLOG

Baseball's Paradox: Professionals Playing a Kid's Game

12/20/2007 11:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At Steroid Nation we plan to analyze the Mitchell Report on several
fronts: development of the problem, presentation of the data, and
offering of remedies, among other issues the report addresses.
However, one factor strikes us as influencing the entire report: these
are professional athletes playing a game that is also played by
children. This interesting paradox leads to some of the issues MLB now
faces.

Professionals are not only paid for their performance -- be it law,
medicine, or baseball -- but are held to a higher ethical standard
than uncompensated 'amateurs'. The amateur should adhere to the rules
of the game, play fair, and generally enjoy the contest. The
professional, however, also should be obligated to uphold and respect
the institution itself; As a physician might look back to the
principles of practice espoused by Sir William Osler, a MLB player
might look back to principles of integrity exemplified by the way Lou
Gehrig played the game.

2007-12-20-uchr_06_img0576.jpg

A professional knows and understands the ethics of his craft. Although
MLB may not have implemented state-of-the-art PED testing, the players
should have been aware that non-prescribed drugs for performance
enhancement represented an unfair competitive advantage -- i.e.
cheating. Obviously, if pro baseball players were buying HGH from AIDS
patients, and calling up a steroids-peddler from New York for anabolic
steroids, these dealings were not above board; ethical behavior does
not occur in the stall of the locker room, or the bedroom of an
apartment where you inject you teammates with illicit nandrolone.
Professional baseball players should not be running around the locker
room acting like 7th grade kids trying to get by with sneaking in some
tobacco.

Within the construct of 'professional behavior' lies a conundrum and
part of a solution. The conundrum comes from those who would excuse
such drug-cheating as minor (because writers mistakenly feel the PEDs
are not effective), or not prohibited by the MLB. As the Mitchell
Report points out the drugs were prohibited by MLB rules for decades.
Furthermore, the entire unsavory process of buying steroids from a
drug dealer, injecting oneself without a legitimate physician's
prescription and hiding the transaction from family and team, exists
clearly in violation of state and federal laws. The laws of the land
are not suspended in the baseball complex. Lastly, although some may
debate the effect of PEDs on player, they cannot honestly question the
deleterious side-effects of the drugs.

The partial solution offered by a call to 'professionalism' would
include an emphasis on the ethical obligations pursuant to
professional baseball. Playing pro ball is not only a way to enrich
self, set records, and win championships, but also should include a
respect for the history of the game laid down by consummate MLB
professionals like Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Cal Ripken. Not
every character who donned a uniform exhibited exemplary behavior;
however that doesn't give permission for current players to cheat the
game and to cheat their peers with PEDs. Part of standing in the
rarefied player ranks of a game with a storied and colorful history
consists of respecting the rules and the spirit of baseball.

Baseball as a 'game' presents conceptual problems too. MLB is a
professional competition, which exists as a for-profit business;
however 5th grade boys in Poughkeepsie will not understand the
pressure that a marginally talented pitcher with an injured body feels
to make unethical decisions about steroid use. Despite opinions that
pro baseball players should not be role models, it will be impossible
to change a couple thousand years of evolutionary behavior. Children
will continue to emulate their heroes, be they George Washington, or
Barry Bonds. As adults we know that both Washington and Bonds were
flawed characters; as children we pray they were not. Despite protests
otherwise, an MLB player should understand that children will look up
to him as a hero; if this were not the case, the multi-million dollar
salary of the MLB player would be more in line with the average
parental wages. With that great social visibility of sports heroes,
comes the baggage of serving as a role model to youth. It then
behooves MLB players to consider their roles in the broader scope of
society; like or not kids will emulate their behaviors, ethical or
unethical.

Baseball faces a difficult task in rebuilding the professional
integrity built by players like Walter Johnson, Roberto Clemente, and
Hank Aaron. The Mitchell Report presents an opportunity to regain the
moral high ground for the 'national pastime'.