By Frank Mensel
For Americans fond of pro sports — who see them as part of the very fabric of Americana — the recurring scandals over performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) could hardly be more galling. To such fans, there is no career more privileged and envied than that of the big-league athlete, whatever the sport. Fans feel betrayed by players who use PEDs.
Professional sports have become very big business solely because of fan support. Football has become the biggest entertainment spectacle in the country, even as baseball and basketball draw larger total audiences.
But sports remain a cultural institution in this country, not just a business. Baseball, football, basketball and other sports impact our society down to the youth level. What we continue allowing to happen in pro sports, including the ongoing issue of PEDs, symbolically communicates our values as a society.
Major League Baseball finds itself embroiled in a doping scandal it not only must put to rest, but also cremate to avoid becoming ashes itself. The sports industry can’t afford these ongoing doping scandals, nor can we as a society.
As many as a score of stars and other players currently on Major League Baseball rosters purportedly have been doing business with a drug dealer in Florida, who wants to head off legal action against himself by naming names.
The game’s integrity will be tested by the harshness of the penalties against these players. If Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, can be banned from the Hall of Fame for gambling on games, should the dopers fare any better? It will be a shame if they do. The politics of the industry may get them off with something lighter, maybe suspensions of 50 games or possibly even 100 games. But if these cheaters are not banned, the shame will never go away.
Recognized for most of the last century as the nation’s pastime, Major League Baseball, with its anti-trust exemption and other government favors, had the iconic status of a church granted the right to police itself. It can only maintain that position by cleaning house and sparing no tainted stars from lifetime bans.
Take Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in New York Yankees history. Weighed against his potential as a gifted athlete, his plight now could not be sadder. He was barely in his twenties when his play at shortstop with the Seattle Mariners marked him to become one of the greatest shortstops to ever play. With good health, he was pegged to become the greatest player the game has produced, and its all-time homerun king, too. Yet, A-Rod’s homerun prowess will be forever tainted, and his records will never make the record books if his doping brings the punishment it should.
If baseball is true to itself, history will not be kind to homerun legends like Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. If the Hall of Fame is closed to Pete Rose, it likewise should be closed to any proven performance-enhancing drug users.
The more that pro sports grow as the nation’s largest entertainment industry, the more the industry owes it to the fans to stay clean. Weak enforcement and mild punishment become an insult to both fans and the law-abiding players. No one wants pro sports cleaned up as much as the drug-free players. They know the games they love, along with their personal integrity, are compromised by the abusers who are making a joke of themselves and their profession.
Ultimately, if the games aren’t kept clean they become just another Hollywood, with actors accomplishing amazing but make-believe feats.
A native of Provo, Utah, Frank Mensel has enjoyed a long career serving community colleges in national affairs. He was a Congressional liaison for both the Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees. Mensel began his career at age 18 as a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune. He continues to write as national policy advisor for the American Student Association of Community Colleges, the student-government network he co-founded, and as Senior Fellow with the Education Policy Center of the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
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- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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