Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Dark Day for Sports


On a day when the dominating news in the sports world should have been the revival of one of the great college basketball rivalries with a one point IU victory over #1 Kentucky or the "upset" Robert Griffin taking the Heisman Trophy (the first in Baylor's history to win it) right out of the hands of the undisputed #1 draft pick, Andrew Luck, we are faced with news of the National League MVP testing positive for PED's.  On a day when my teams - Michigan and Valparaiso - won games that we all expected them too, my joy is corralled by the news of one of our great young baseball stars cheating to make himself famous.

While baseball continues to revive itself from a strike more than 15 years ago which ravaged the fan base and a steroid problem we were supposed to believe was fixed (I mean, look at the home run numbers - they can't possibly be continuing to use the stuff!) this news is devastating.  Presumably, Braun did not just begin to take PED's during this MVP campaign.  Has he been using them his entire career?  Did he just begin taking them a year ago to assist in getting him a contract extension which promised $140 million+ thru 2020?  We'll probably never know the answers and even if Braun opens up about the issue, it's hard to imagine believing anything he says on the topic.

What seems to be hardest for sports writers, fans and those at the top of the baseball world to answer is - if we were placed in the same position as these players, would we do the same things?  It's easy to take the ground of moral superiority and say that we are all above this, but given the millions that are being thrown around and the perception of "everyone is doing it", I will admit that I could see myself ending up in Braun's shoes.

Baseball (and for that matter Football, Basketball and every other major sport) is not PURE as we like to believe it once was.  For the players, I would contend that building a lasting legacy is no longer (if it ever was) the driving factor in their career arc.  While making the Hall of Fame is certainly still an honor, the objective for the player today is to maximize their earnings over the life of their career, and who can blame them for that?  It's the same thing the owners want to do and its the same thing all of us want to do in our jobs.

In today's world of being able to pull up any statistics we want on any player at any time in a matter of moments a player's legacy doesn't have the same meaning it once did.  We aren't relegated to finding this information on the back's of baseball cards and there are no more bar bets that can't be answered within seconds with a mobile phone.  Let's stop kidding ourselves in to believing that players are playing for the love of the game.  They are playing because us fans continue to watch, continue to go to games and continue to pay outrageous prices to wear our teams' gear and come to games.  They are playing for their next paycheck - which for most people with those aspirations, never come.  They are playing to prolong their careers - to make as much as they can in the short time they are stars, so that when they leave the sporting world their lives are relatively unaffected.  And why do we blame them for taking extraordinary measure to maximize their value?

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