Saturday, May 24, 2008

But Who Will Save The Children?

Buried on ESPN.com is this little tidbit, a story about a trainer named David Jacobs who's singing like a bird about distributing steroids and HGH (1000 packages each of steroids and HGH every month) to NFL players. For his crime, he's got three years probation, and the story's well off the front page. Compare that to the foofaraw around every baseball-related steroids rumor, to the jail time being doled out for others' offenses, to the sanctimonious chest-beating over how steroids in baseball are destroying America's youth, and to the much greater attention being paid to whether Bill Belichick had injured players practicing when they shouldn'ta oughta done that. Oh, and let's not forget the much stiffer sentences going around to other steroidally linked felons, shall we?

It doesn't fly. If you're going to go after steroids in sports, go after steroids in all sports. If you're going to get the Senate involved in a football cheating scandal, how about the one that involves teams other than New England - the one that comes with syringes? If you care about kids emulating athletes by taking steroids, how about the ones who gain the most by bulking up and raging out? To do anything otherwise is shameful pandering, and either an abandonment of those cute roid-rippled kids everyone's supposedly so concerned about or an admission that they were just a convenient excuse to get some screen time.

Look, I understand why baseball takes it harder for steroids stuff than any other sport, the same way it gets slammed harder for pretty much anything. It's the sport of nostalgia and the pastoral dream, Norman Rockwell and black and white reels. It's the sport that actually made history in this country, the game that immigrants could latch onto, the game that put breaking the color bar on the front page, the game that we somehow associate with better things. And so when any scandal touches it, it taints it proportionally more, because we expect more of baseball. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we subconsciously expect our football players to be 'roided up behemoths because we don't want nostalgia or inspiration from football, we want big hits. It's a game where "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" is repeated with a knowing smile and not disgust. NASCAR had a guy careening around the track at 200 miles an hour while coked to the gills on heroin, and top teams' crew chiefs are routinely snagged for violating race rules, but everyone just grins at that because, hell, NASCAR's a little outlaw and you can't blame a fella for trying to get an edge. (How exactly NASCAR is "outlaw" with corporate logos plastered all over every inch of car, driver, crew, and often track is beyond me, but that's what they tell me.)

The difference is that, to be blunt, we don't expect better of the NFL, or NASCAR, or the NBA. We do expect better of baseball, whether we should or not. And when we don't get it, we're that much more disappointed.

But that still doesn't exculpate the same media outlets who tap-danced on forged Mitchell Report leaks for days from staying on top of the Jacobs story. Not if they want to claim the moral high ground over those non-professional blogger types, and not if they ever want a steroid story on baseball to be taken seriously again.
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