A few days ago I wrote a post explaining why, I believe, Mark McGwire should not be allowed to work in Major League Baseball. My reasoning is, admittedly, pretty simple: He cheated. He lied. He used a drug (illegal under multiple United States laws) to wipe out the game’s second-most sacred record (755 being first, 61 being second). He took the Maris family along for the ride—convincing them of his sincerity and decency, then (oops) later admitting he cheated.
Readers, for the most part, hated my point; called me an idiot and a fool and on and on. Mostly, they said I’m a pompous, self-righteous asshole.
This infuriates me.
No, not the pompous, self-righteous asshole part. I’ve been called plenty worse. What infuriates me, frustrates me, genuinely depresses me is how pathetic and eager and willing sports fans are to worship and praise their heroes—no matter how loathsome those heroes may well be. When it comes to McGwire, I just can’t understand how anyone—anyone—can justify his actions; or simply allow bygones to be bygones. I’m not saying Mark McGwire is the devil. Hell, he’s probably a nice man. But he destroyed a record set by a good man (Roger Maris) in the midst of awful circumstances. The same goes for Barry Bonds, who didn’t seem to mind that 755 home runs had been hit by an iconic figure who endured unfathomable racial hostilities en route to bettering Babe Ruth.
To the athlete worshiper, none of that matters. It wasn’t cheating because, hey, Major League Baseball didn’t have a rule against steroids (similarly, an accountant can use crack while doing your taxes, because Robert Half doesn’t mention crack among its Can’t Do list for employees). So what if we all know it’s cheating? So what if myriad ballplayers have acknowledged it was cheating? No, it wasn’t; couldn’t be. Because … well … eh … GO CARDS!
Truth is, I’m not against McGwire working baseball because I feel like being holier than thou. I’m against it because I love baseball. Like, I REALLY love baseball. Specifically, I love the record book. I still vividly recall Rickey Henderson passing Lou Brock’s single season stolen base record. I was 10, and euphoric. I looked up all the guys behind him—Maury Wills, Omar Moreno, Tim Raines … fascinated by the comparative history; by the achievement. Now, let’s say someone uncovers an illegal drug that makes you supersonic fast, and next season Carl Crawford takes it and steals 150 bags. Are we supposed to celebrate his accomplishment? Or cry bullshit?
And, since I’m on a little roll here, LSU coach Les Miles is another perfect example of the sports fan willing to overlook his hero’s moral flaws in the name of winning. Miles, if you haven’t heard, has allowed a player named Jeremy Hill to stay on the team—despite the fact that the star tailback has pleaded guilty to one … no, wait!—two horrible crimes. First, as a high school student, Hill was charged for pressuring a 14-year old girl into performing oral sex in the boys’ locker room two months before signing day. He sat out the next year while resolving his legal issues. Then, in April (in the words of the excellent Greg Doyle), “Hill snuck up behind a guy outside a bar, came at him from the side and threw a running haymaker into the defenseless guy’s face. Then laughed about it. And high-fived a friend.” Hell, here’s the news report.
When asked why, dear God, someone like Hill is allowed to play for LSU, Miles gave the lamest answer in the history of lame answers: He had his players vote, and they decided to give the guy a third chance. Paging Cecil Collins. Cecil Collins, anyone?
When will fans finally take a stand? When will they acknowledge that sports, while entertainment diversions at their core, also matter? That the messages sent and the antics enacted are important. That kids are watching. That accountability means something.
That heroes can be called out, even if it hurts.
PS: One more point: Stephen Glass never worked in journalism again. Myriad accountants and lawyers and doctors—once found guilty of violating serious professional bylaws—are done. Yet, in sports, coaches always say, “In America, we give second chances.” Yeah, if you hit home runs.