The reverberations from the Mitchell Report released last month will be felt for some time in professional baseball. One of the most prolific offensive eras in baseball history, one in which personal performance soared and the records associated with it fell, has now been tainted. In a sport that maintains a direct connection to its century-long history through its statistics, its holy numbers, anything which could damage the validity of those numbers threatens the very integrity of the sport. The report contained few surprises, but it set forth in writing just how widespread the use of performance-enhancing drugs had become in the major leagues. Most compellingly, the report named names.
Baseball is far from being the only sport where athletes have been tainted by accusations of cheating. It is but the latest. Track and field, cycling, football, just about every Olympic sport that requires physical exertion and/or endurance, the list goes on. In fact, a person would be hard-pressed to find a sport where competitors have not sought a chemical advantage. Stakes being what they are at the highest levels of competition, therein lies little surprise.
What is worrisome about these scandals is not that cheating happens, but that sports itself continues to garner so much rapt attention focused on its lows. Sports are games. Athletes are entertainers. Just as an example, taken from the realm of sports excellence, not scandal, the New England Patriots sweeping the regular season in the NFL has no bearing on the welfare of the citizens of Boston, other than perhaps an artificially inflated sense of self-worth. None of the foes vanquished throughout four grueling months of contest, nor their representative cities, must pay tribute to the land of the victors. Not one fan who bought a ticket and paid to see a win will see a windfall from their favorite team’s performance (gamblers being the exception).
At the other end of the spectrum, Barry Bonds’s still-fresh tainting of baseball’s career homerun record costs the citizens of San Francisco nothing. Bonds’s homeruns throughout his twenty-two year career in Pittsburgh and the Bay Area neither started, nor ended wars, caused a recession or fostered economic recovery. Achievement in sports is a non-event which has no bearing on the lives of anyone who does not make a living from those achievements.
The point is this. Unless sports pays your bills, puts food on the table and your children through college, it means little. Grow up with a team, pick a team —however a person establishes an affiliation is a personal affair — and should that team prevail, enjoy. Should it fall in inglorious defeat, find no reason for the day to be lost. Wrapping emotional well being in the fortunes of athletes and teams is nothing more than a distraction from life. Elevating athletes to a place where scandal and subsequent downfall is treated as national shame showcases our own hollowness, and points to a disease where our worship of the modern gladiator/athlete is but merely a symptom.
Sports do not matter. Sports are entertainment. Sports are one notch above fiction in the hierarchy of events that should rule a person’s life.