WHERE ARE TODAY’S ATHLETIC ROLE MODELS?
I have a grandson who turned 12 this week. He just finished playing on his Little League District All Star team in the Iowa State Tournament. While he certainly has some level of natural talent, he has made the All Star team primarily due to hard work. He practices hard, is always the first to arrive for practice, and the last to leave. He does this, not to receive praise or honors, but because he loves baseball, and wants to play the game he loves as well as his God given physical talents will allow. He also enjoys hearing me talk about the baseball stars of my era, and the kind of men they were. Stan the Man Musial, Ernie Mr. Cub Banks, Ted Williams and so many others.
I think at least part of the reason he listens to these stories is because he can’t trust any of the baseball players of today. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about another player who is using steroids, human growth hormone or some other performance enhancing drug. If not performance drugs, we hear about athletes caught using so-called recreational drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy or others.
It saddens me that a 12 year old boy can’t model his play on a player, or show admiration for an athlete, because his performance may be based on cheating. Even when caught, players often excuse their behavior by blaming ignorance, or denying their involvement in the face of positive tests, or complaining to their players union that they have been unjustly accused or punished. Punishment is also a joke. Suspending a player for a limited number of games without pay means little to an athlete who may lose 2 or 3 million dollars when the drugs he used rewarded him with a contract worth 100 million dollars. The owners of the teams are also not greatly affected. If a player is suspended for a number of games, they simply add a replacement player from their practice squad, or farm team (dependent on the sport). In other words, the consequences of being caught with drugs is scant punishment when weighed against the potential gains for the athlete, his team and the owners.
I am not naive about this. I understand that to most of us, sports is just sports. But to the owners and players, as well as the networks, media and all their employees, professional sports is a business. And like all businesses, it is the profit motive that drives almost every decision. That being the reality, the only way to clean up the drug issues in sports is to make it painful to the business aspect, which will affect the bottom line. I have a simple suggestion that could begin this process.
As a hockey fan, I understand the use of the penalty box. If a player commits an infraction, he is sent to the penalty box for a specific period of time. His team must then play with one man short. Five against four, or six against five if you count the goalie. The team who was guilty is at a distinct disadvantage, while the team that was victimized by the transgression has a chance to gain a goal in the mis-match. Perhaps this same philosophy can be applied to all professional sports with respect to drug usage.
Simply put, if a player is suspended for violating the league drug rules, that roster spot cannot be filled by a replacement player for the duration of the penalty. In baseball, each team has a 25 player roster. If one is suspended, the team can only utilize the remaining 24 players for the period of the suspension. If two are suspended from the same team, the team is now down to a 23 player roster. This would only affect the team roster. The number of players fielded during a game would not be affected.
While this may only be a beginning step, it would show that the owners, players and their unions are serious about cleaning up their respective sports. If this or some similar action is not taken, we can look forward to cheating and drug use for many years to come.