Thursday, December 02, 2004

Integrity takes a fall

Jason Giambi, a nine-year major league baseball player and one time Most Valuable Player, admits to a grand jury that he used steroids in order to enhance his athletic performance. He also states that he injected human growth hormone (HGH) into his body for a period of time. Giambi has publicly denied this for the past four years.

Add a few other facts. First, steroids and HGH are not illegal. The distribution and use of steroids or HGH without a prescription is illegal. Second, baseball’s steroid policy does not include HGH. Third, major league baseball’s anti-steroid and testing policy only went into effect in 2003 – after the time period that Giambi admits using the drugs.

Those are the facts of the case. The more interesting part is the attitudes of the various partners in this dance. The music is macabre.

The players view steroids as an insignificant issue. Many athletes have developed a lifestyle and training regime that involves diet supplements, creams, pain modifiers, mental enhancers – anything that pushes the edges of their abilities. The ball goes another 10 feet further, the time from home to first is 2 one-hundredths of a second faster. The difference between winning and losing, the difference between higher personal stats or sitting on the bench, might be that new diet, the weight-lifting regimen, or one pill. Even if that is not true, the athlete may perceive it to be true.

The fans have not rebelled with their feet or their wallets. Baseball attendance has been up over the last decade as the offensive numbers – hits, home runs, and runs – have increased. A stronger, faster athlete in smaller ballparks means more exciting offensive games.

The owners see the ticket receipts. They see no reason to tamper with success.

The people who dispense the performance-enhancing drugs get to be part of the athletic circle, even if it isn't realizing their dreams of being on the field themselves. They get sucked into the bright lights of the entertainment industry.

Someone is even leaking sealed grand jury records to the San Francisco newspapers, obviously hearing the same song as everyone else.

Everybody wins, and there’s plenty of money to go around.

Integrity takes a fall. No, not the integrity of the sport -- that's a faulty, misguided premise. This song is about personal integrity and honesty. A man lied. Many others, standing behind him, are all part of the same lie.

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