Friday, December 14, 2007

A Culture of Ethical Apathy

As I stated yesterday, the Mitchell report on steroid usage in Major League baseball came out. I read or skimmed the entire thing yesterday, and it was pretty much what I expected. Names were named; recommendations were made; hand wringing from sports commentators followed. And this news just in: the sky did not fall.

Here are a few of my initial reactions. I found this oddly similar to reading the Windsor Report of Anglican fame, but I won't chase that white rabbit (as fun a similarity as that might be). While documented and fairly even handed in writing style, I found the section which included the naming of names to be reminiscent of old fashioned "shock value" yellow journalism. I found myself wondering why Jose Canseco's expose book met with such "He's a stool pigeon" scorn and this report was met with such fan fare. Granted, Canseco was out to make money and a splash, while this report had the veil of Congressional justice-seeking objectivity.

My third and most poignant reaction was disbelief, but not the type of disbelief you might think I mean. I have had no doubt for many years that steroids and other performance enhancing drugs were used in professional and amateur sports in great numbers. I think this stems from the culture we live in, which I call the culture of ethical apathy. This culture is basically summed up in the mantra of 'As long as I don't get caught, I'm okay, you're okay.'

I could lay the blame for this at many doors, most notably postmodernism and its penchant for existentialism run amok. Truth in pluriform. What is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you, never the twain should meet for if both truths completely contradict each other, it really is a know-what-never-mind because its all about me anyhow.

Also at fault is the culture we have constructed for ourselves where everything basically boils down to entertainment. Church should be entertaining, school should be entertaining, and yes, even baseball should be about entertainment. Forget sportsmanship and athletic competition. The fans have to be entertained to justify the gargantuan money ball players make so that everyone gets their money's worth.

The ultimate entertainment in the world of entertainment is getting your team a championship. If entertainment is an end unto itself, then the ends justify the means as long as the goal is achieved. Thus, performance enhancing drugs like steroids are an ethical casualty so that the end result is attained. Entertainment by whatever means necessary.

Thus, anyone who understands anything about human physiology and current events should not be surprised at the outcome of the Mitchell Report. Doping scandals have been around for years, just ask any Tour de France fan. I have said it before, and I will say it again, "a player's physical ability only diminishes over time." To have a ball player suddenly have an exponential increase in production (home runs, pitching ERA, whatever) late in his career is just not natural. It is one thing to suddenly start exercising, having led a previously sedentary life. But for athletes who have been working out regularly to still continue to grow to behemoth status. Som'in just ain't right about that, and Sherlock Holmesian deductive skill is not needed.

I would also suggest our culture is one which harbors cheating on just about any level, with the caveat that one does not get caught and one is not swindling little old ladies out of retirement savings (although the later might be optional in some circles.) I call this the "copy and paste" culture after that little feature on your computer which allows to copy and paste of text. A little click here, a little click there. No one need know. A little white virtual lie. As one student once told me, "Dude, its not like I'm stealing a car."

Well, true, it is not a car. And, true, I have been known to download an occasional .MP3 that was probably not licensed. But stealing is still stealing, and cheating is cheating. For those of us who believe in absolute truth, we can't give up our integrity. Like my grandfather once told me, "Look'a here, Boy. if you give that up, you really got nothin'."

That nothin' might very well end up being what those Major League Baseball players have in the end. No Hall of Fame, no stats, certainly no integrity. And that is a crying shame, because a lot of those players could easily have made it into the Hall of Fame without needing extra help.

That is why I have always believed that the Hall of Fame candidacy of a potential inductee should be measured on two questions: What have you done for yourself? What have you done for the Game?

Obviously the first has to do with stats. Batting Average, championship, etc. This is about the individual. The second has to do with the community. Have you given back to the community, or have you taken all you could get by whatever means necessary? Have you made the baseball and real worlds a fundamentally better place than when you entered it, or have you made it worse?

For those reasons, I had not supported Barry Bonds or anyone who has the taint of steroids. Had he (or now they) have given back to the community more, I might reconsider on the basis of community and not solely on the basis of individual stats. Baseball is about more than just the individual, more than just entertainment. There must be a community element as well, or else the Hall of Fame becomes a showcase for scoundrels and mercenary athletes, people who in the words of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are referred to as "notorious evil livers" who just happen to have athletic ability.

I always chuckle at the term "notorious evil liver." I always had visions of body organs with bandanas and hand guns holding up a liturgy. But, suffice is to say, I wouldn't want to be one. I don't know is steroids affect the liver, but perhaps in the case of Major Leaguers, they could be "felonious cheating muscles."

Now that would be a fun Prayerbook Rubric.

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