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New PED Suspensions: The Timing Is Off

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It seems weird that Major League Baseball (MLB) may be about to levy widespread suspensions to star players, including Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz, suspected of using performing enhancing drugs (PEDs) allegedly obtained from the Biogenesis of America clinic.

MLB had maintained a blind eye toward players who had juiced for many years after Mark McGwire was discovered to be using a steroid during his home run record season of 1998, but currently the pendulum is swinging to the other end of the continuum.

It appears that the baseball powers are now making a statement about how important it is to discipline the cheaters who uprooted the level playing field paradigm, and to re-establish the integrity of the game. The problem is that in the eyes of many fans such action is way too late. A decade or so ago the baseball adoring public would have been outraged by these revelations and applauded suspensions, but the landscape has changed, and moral outrage has morphed into indifference among many fans.

In reacting to news that their cherished heroes are tainted, the court of public opinion has transitioned through phases of denial, anger, and acceptance of reality. A healthy skepticism about the innocence of suspected steroid users, along with a prevalence of apathy toward these scandals largely defines the present climate -- in what I refer to as "The Whatever Syndrome."

This trend has been accelerating in recent years. For example in 2007 when Barry Bonds was challenging the all-time home run record, amid ongoing steroid allegations, an informal poll of 100 people taken at SBC Park indicated that 92 per cent said that they believed that Bonds used PEDs. More significantly, only 24 percent of this group said that they cared.
It is noteworthy that major league attendance is declining this year. Perhaps, this is a motivating factor in the initiative toward PE suspensions, disguised as a position that corruption will no longer be tolerated. This would be a misguided appeal to the public to restore their faith in the game, based on the assumption that fans are moving away as a function of their disillusionment in the sanctity of the sport. It is my contention that baseball as a spectator sport has become increasingly boring, largely because of the substantial rise in strikeouts per game (i.e., lack of on the field action), and that this issue rather than a disillusionment about tainted heroes is central in keeping fans away. People crave excitement in sports to supplement or counteract what might be missing in their lives, and in this regard baseball is falling behind the other major sports leagues.

It is also likely that suspensions at this time will not be heralded as a popular stance by the fans, because of a heightened antipathy toward the power brokers who run MLB, who are often perceived as autocratic and not even handed. It is a part of the negativity toward authority prevalent in our culture today. It speaks volumes that at Old Timers festivities, Commissioner Bud Selig frequently is greeted with boos, in contrast to Pete Rose who receives ovations.
It seems as though the public is more interested in forgiving and moving along, infused with a desire to see their heroes perform, warts and all; while the league is more interested in belatedly pursuing the many who have tainted the image of purity of the national pastime.

Stanley H. Teitelbaum, Ph.D., psychoanalyst, author of Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side and Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols.

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