Guest Essay

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.


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