The Mitchell Report might have been the last straw. I long ago abandoned professional football–haven’t watched a game live or on TV since the Houston Oilers fired Bum Phillips and traded Earl Campbell–and professional basketball put me to sleep long before that, in both cases more for the on and off field culture they helped promote and reward than the quality of the play. But major league baseball has always been my first love as a professional sport and I continued to have respect for its intricacies as the “thinking man’s game”, the strategic drama, the poetry of it all–“The Natural”, “Field of Dreams”, “Casey at the Bat”, etc.–and the great traditions of the game. True, it has over the past thirty years or so succumbed to many of the same corruptions as the NFL and NBA, but it had managed to maintain a certain nostalgic attraction for me that even George Steinbrenner couldn’t completely destroy. But the Mitchell Report on the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs may do it. I’m not naive. Intuitively, I knew that the drug problem was more widespread than had been reported publicly, but I guess I wanted to believe that substantially all players were above it, if not ethically, at least in terms of its destructive potential. I’ve just watched Mike Wallace interview Roger Clemens on “60 Minutes” and I would like to believe that he is being truthful in his denials of the reports of his usage of steriods, but it’s difficult to know what or who to believe, and that’s the problem for me–we have almost reached the point that to assign complete credibility to anyone in such cases where the incentives are so compelling one must choose to be totally cynical to avoid being guilty of extreme naivete.
Of one thing I am sure. Our society will not purge itself of this corrupting imagery for our children until we take a no tolerance attitude with those who are proven guilty and not only condemn these practices, but completely remove the financial incentives for the perpetrators by removing them from their profession and stripping them of their records and awards. I totally disagree with George Mitchell’s suggestion that past infractions not be prosecuted. In fact, if there are criminal referrals for drug use to be made, they should be made, and whether or not laws have been violated, major league baseball should deal harshly with those who violated the public trust by using these substances. That’s the only chance they have to get me back.