It seems that professional athletes, especially the most outstanding, have forever been considered heroes and placed on a pedestal by the general public. But like most things in life people’s attitudes can change, and the introduction and consumption of illegal substances has done much to dispel the myth that these individuals represent the best in all of us.
In more recent years we have read almost daily of professional football, basketball and baseball players being arrested and charged with a variety of serious offenses ranging from drunk driving to murder.
We would tend to suspect that instant riches have turned somewhat normal people into something far different – power corrupts, after all – and they have developed a sense of entitlement. Hero-worship has no doubt played a role in this attitude, while the opportunity to make millions has caused some to lose their moral compass and to do whatever is required to measure up.
The most recent scandal in baseball has been a trigger and one that could have a long-lasting impact in the minds of sporting fans everywhere. No longer will we view our "heroes" as role models for our children and grandchildren but simply entertainers, often with as many weaknesses as the everyday Joe.
The desire to become bigger and stronger and thus able to hit more and longer home runs or to throw a ball at 100 miles per hour is difficult to overcome since acquiring these talents will very likely mean millions of dollars in long-term contracts.
And there is no doubt that steroids will have that effect on an athlete's body. Your columnist can speak from personal experience. After being prescribed with a special steroid to treat a condition, we could see the results in body development within a month and continued use might have created a mini-giant.
No question, steroid use is rampant. A conversation with Mountie great linebacker George Wright brought out the fact he had been advised to "juice up" if he had hopes of moving on to play in the CFL. Being an intelligent and well-adjusted young man he chose a different career path, rejecting the advice.
The CIS conducts drug tests on its athletes across the country throughout the year and has yet to discover a positive one at Mount Allison. However, each year uncovers some cheats, with the worst situation occurring at University of Waterloo two years ago when something like 17 young men were suspended from the football team. A couple of teams in the Atlantic Conference have lost players due to a positive test for steroids.
We naturally think of some big names in baseball accused of loading up on illicit substances and wonder how much better they became as a result. How about the incomparable Roger Clements, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all times, or power hitters like Bobby Bonds and Sammy Sosa. These men have denied all charges and perhaps due to investigative incompetence have never faced suspension.
Then you think of the situation of poor Pete Rose. He has been denied the right to enter the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame because apparently he bet on his team, the Cincinatti Reds, to win. Betting of any kind is a no-no in Major League Baseball but use of illegal substance can be condoned with a slap on the wrist.
The first drug policy in baseball was introduced in 1991 and updated in 2004. Any player proving positive could receive a 10-game suspension for the first offense, 30 days for a second time, 60 days for a third and a full year if caught four times. This seemed to have little impact and the general belief was that a high percentage of players were experimenting. Then in 2008 the rules were toughened with penalties ranging from 50 days for the first offense to a lifetime for a third positive test. Since then 67 players have been caught with just two members of the Blue Jays found guilty.
A more recent general sweep by investigators has led to the suspension of no fewer than six well known players for 50 days, with Alex (A-Rod) Rodriquez being hit with a 211-day suspension. However, the players union is backing A-Rod in his appeal and observers are confident the period will be reduced. Since he earns a whopping $29 million a year he stands to sacrifice more than forty million unless his penalty is reduced - and at 38 his playing days could be ended.
It would appear officials are attempting to make an example of their highest paid star, accusing him of recruiting others to the steroid lab in Miami connected to dozens of players, some including Melky Cabrera of the Jays. A-Rod has never been popular with fans but has often been considered the best player in the game, being a prodigious hitter and adequate fielder.
The Yankees, hoping to unload some huge salaries, lost two in the recent crackdown with catcher Cerelli being caught in the net. The others, mostly household names, are Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, Johnny Perralta of the Detroit Tigers, Eveth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres and Antonoio Bartolo of the Philadelphia Phillies. Melky Cabrera, who sat out 50 games last season, escaped this time although his name was linked to the Miami lab.
The question arises as to whose statistics are really clean. Should those convicted or even strongly suspected of steroid use be included with those players who made it on pure talent alone? And should the use of marijuana or even cocaine be considered a stimulant sufficient to improve a player's ability to perform? It is recalled that one player with the old Montreal Expos actually sniffed coke while in the team's dugout.
Some today question if the records put up by people like Babe Ruth and Roger Maris were tainted or should they be challenged by the likes of McGuire and Sosa who are strongly suspected? That's a poser and since statistics are key factors something that will require a good deal of sorting out.
Meanwhile, don't bet your last penny that you have heard the end of the story. Simply stay tuned since a 50-day suspension is little more than a slap on the wrist when a multi-million dollar contract has been signed. As one columnist suggests, it will take a season-long suspension for the first offense and a lifetime one for a second mistake.
But the most serious result of the abuse of enhancing illicit chemicals is the loss of faith in highly successful athletes by the general public. Surely major league sport will be viewed in an entirely different light now that we realize so many are "juiced" and performing beyond their talent.