I've spent many emotional hours in baseball dugouts. I've supported players through dry spells, celebrated underdog victories and been moved to tears by the genuine camaraderie between teammates.
I've heard players express deep yearnings to attain the same level of success their idols have and I've also heard them wonder out loud whether to use performance-enhancing drugs to get there -- not because they would give them an advantage but because not taking them would put them at a disadvantage. And they couldn't afford to be in that position because they desperately wanted to be scouted to play ball -- in college.
What the hell are we teaching our kids?
As team mom for both my kids' teams, I was constantly spouting lessons about success only being achieved by hard work and practice. But, as we watched big-name player after big-name player face accusations of PED use -- with few consequences -- I could see I was losing my audience.
My messages were totally overshadowed by the headlines, by the million of dollars that continued to be bestowed upon these players, by the millions of fans who continued to fill stadiums to cheer for them. These messages were loud and clear: "You may get a hand slap, a fine or even a temporary suspension for using drugs but, hey, by then your stats will be Hall of Fame-worthy and you'll probably be forgiven."
Because so many life lessons are learned through sports and we look to athletes as our role models, we are teaching our children that the ends justify the means. This philosophy spills out way beyond the ball field, beyond baseball cheaters ending up in the Hall of Fame. Wall Street cheaters end up as billionaires. Politician cheaters end up in positions of power.
We are setting a dangerous precedent. Would you want your family driving in a car fixed by a mechanic who cheated? Or your child operated on by a doctor who cheated?
It's time to make professional athletes accountable for their actions.
Now, with the Red Sox coming off their third World Series win in a decade, there's lots of talk about David Ortiz approaching Hall of Fame status. Yes, he batted a ridiculously high .688 during the Series, earning him the MVP title, and he's like a giant, cuddly teddy bear with an adorable nickname -- how can you possibly resist someone known as Big Papi? Plus, he spoke for the entire city of Boston when he unapologetically announced, after the Marathon tragedy, "This is our fucking city."
People love him. Jeez, I'm a Yankees fan and I love him. I love him for standing up against the terrorists. For his charm. For his personality. But none of that makes him worthy of a place in the pantheon of the baseball gods.
Before we hand him the key to Cooperstown, let's rewind to 2003 when he -- and 103 other players -- tested positive for steroids by Major League Baseball, the governing body of the sport.
Ortiz contends he has no idea how that could have happened. That may be true. Or it may not.
He certainly wouldn't be the first athlete to feign innocence, only to be found guilty later on.
Do you remember how inspired you once felt by Lance Armstrong? My kids proudly wore their yellow plastic "Live Strong" bracelets, believing they could do anything.
And wasn't it exciting watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battle it out, chasing Roger Maris' single season home run record? Families gathered around their TVs that summer, awestruck at these athletes' abilities.
Then, what about our collective shock and disillusionment when we learned that all of them had achieved their successes while using steroids? My kids threw out their bracelets, and questioned every new athletic record that was set. They no longer believed human beings could achieve such feats on their own.
I'm angry that this is what our "heroes" have taught our children.
Professional sports organizations have an obligation to stop protecting the game and start protecting future generations. It's up to them to find a way to test properly and publicly, and then enforce the rules.
Apologies shouldn't be enough. "I only did it once" shouldn't be an excuse. Statistics based on games played while taking performance-enhancing drugs shouldn't count.
And the Hall of Fame shouldn't be tarnished with athletes who would be better suited to the Hall of Shame.
Follow Lois Alter Mark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/loisaltermark