Steroids and the Downfall...of Sports Journalism

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Steroids and the Downfall...of Sports Journalism

So Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003. Everybody...stop what you're doing. A BASEBALL PLAYER TESTED POSITIVE FOR STEROIDS SIX YEARS AGO. Did you hear? My life has once again been inexorably changed because a professional athlete used a performance enhancing drug. Society is doomed (again)! Think of the children! Will someone PLEASE think of the children?

Okay, now that I'm done laying on the thick sarcasm/gratuitous Simpsons references, I think its necessary to be clear here: I don't care that Alex Rodriguez used steroids. I don't care that Sammy Sosa probably used steroids. I don't care that Mark McGwire used steroids. I don't care that players decided that the fact that their great-great grandchildren would never have to worry about money was worth the damage they would eventually do to their bodies. I don't care that they decided to break a rule that contained literally no consequences. I don't care about any of it and, more importantly, I'm not even sure that revealing the “truth” about steroids in baseball has made a positive impact on the sport at all.

I ask that question in all seriousness, by the way. The public now knows that Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Brian Roberts and a host of other players were cheating bastards. What difference does it make, really? Does it affect our daily lives? Does it affect the game itself-its still a nine inning, most-runs-wins thing, right? Does it make the game better in 2009? I, for one, don't really think it has made much of a difference at all.

My sense of all this is that media members are so ashamed of the fact that they missed this story for ten straight years that they have made it their business to go as far over-the-top as possible to prove their worth as “real journalists.” As anyone who observes sports media should know, about 90% of sportswriters/sports journalists don't really like sports anymore anyway. Most spend as many column inches as possible not-so-effectively hiding their general dislike of athletes and hatred for their jobs. Furthermore, most want to believe themselves to be the next Woodward or Bernstein, destined to blow open a story that will change the world. So we get pile-on story after pile-on story as the names of the guilty trickle out of whatever MLB or government office has decided to leak information for the day. And every time its the same set of columns:

1.Day One: ____________ did steroids!
Day Two: Oh my God, I'm so offended, what an awful human being.
Day Three: The game used to be so pure. These modern players have destroyed the great game.
Day Four: This is evidence that society in general is quickly going to hell.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

There are a few things extraordinarily wrong with the “steroids are ruining baseball and world” news cycle. First of all, why has baseball become the grand symbol for drug use run amok, both in sports and society? Why hasn't the sports media attempted to uncover anything about other sports, or even bother to inquire? There isn't a single star in baseball who hasn't been at least suspected of being on the juice, yet LeBron James can possess shoulders the size of volleyballs and no one even mentions the possibility that this might not be perfectly natural. The point, of course, is not that James has done anything to artificially enhance himself, but simply that sportswriters seem to be happy to accept physical freaks of nature in other sports without an ounce of scrutiny.

Second, one might argue that it is simply the fact that Rodriguez is one of the top three players in the game and therefore it must be such a huge story. The answer to that is personified in a single player: Shawne Merriman. A player who was considered by some to be the most valuable player in football was caught and suspended, yet that story had a shelf life of about 20 minutes. 6 other players were suspended this year (although some suspensions were postponed), yet there were virtually no stories about the “pervasive and destructive use of steroids” in the NFL.

Baseball journalists, more than any other, are so caught up in nostalgia that we have been subjected to story after story that does absolutely nothing to enhance my enjoyment of the sport. As a baseball fan, I would be willing to stipulate to the fact that, for the last 20-25 years, 75-85% of all players were taking some form of performance enhancing drug if the baseball media would be willing to place a moratorium on writing or talking about steroids.

It boils down to this: I'm still going to enjoy the game. This entire “scandal” hasn't made one ounce of difference in the amount I pay attention to the sport. Nor has it really affected attendance, merchandise sales, or virtually anything that goes along with the game. These sportswriters need to understand something: no matter how much you tell us that we should be utterly offended and horrified that most of the players were using steroids, its just not going to happen. We've collectively agreed to suspend disbelief and enjoy our entertainment for what it is: entertainment. In a time such as this, real life sucks enough. If we choose to purposefully ignore when real life tries to intrude on our escape from reality, you're just going to have to deal with it. Go be Woodward and Bernstein somewhere else. I'm sure Blagojevich did some other stupid thing that no one's found out about yet.
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