Page 2 columnist
Quit looking for virtue in American sports. It's not there. It left when the dollars arrived.
For the most part, I believe that as sports fans, we've accepted this reality. As long as we're entertained, as long as the college and pro athletes compete hard, we don't care what they do before or after the first pitch, the opening tip or kickoff. Lie, cheat, abuse drugs, run afoul of the law, skip practice and class ... none of it matters.
But sometimes we -- sports fans and sports journalists -- like to lie to ourselves. We do it for the kids. We pretend that we care what our entertainers do because we worry -- allegedly -- about what message their behavior sends to our very impressionable children.
That's why this week we're all pretending to be overjoyed that Barry Bonds' trainer/best friend Greg Anderson has been busted in a government sting operation attempting to clean up steroid abuse in professional sports.
President Bush, in his State of the Union Address, foreshadowed his war on steroids.
"To help children make right choices," President Bush said, "they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society; but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.''
Bush had U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft back up his tough words. Ashcroft targeted Anderson and three others for distributing steroids.
Now there is much celebrating. Sports fans and journalists are pleased that dramatic steps are being taken to clean up the games they love. President Bush, in an election year, will be hailed as a hero by right-thinking, fair-play-seeking sports fans. He has sent a powerful message to kids: "In an election year, government officials are willing to do just about anything to get re-elected, including ignoring real issues to take on simple-minded, popular causes just to score points with voters."
Ronald Reagan launched a war on drugs in the 1980s. We now have a flourishing prison-building-and-management industry, hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders locked behind bars serving more time than murderers and rapists, and just as many recreational drug users as ever.
Bush's war on steroids won't accomplish a damn thing. Scientists are already hard at work concocting the next supplement athletes can use to gain an unfair advantage. The pro sports leagues have no real interest in seeing performance-enhancing drugs eliminated.
The owners have the wealth and resources to track down, monitor and expose guys like Bonds' trainer. Hell, the government followed Greg Anderson from a steroid pickup right to the Giants' Pac Bell parking lot. Greg Anderson wasn't hiding his activity. But the owners, the coaches and the players don't care.
Human growth hormone is the greatest thing to happen to professional sports since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. These athletes have guaranteed contracts and/or receive huge signing bonuses. It's widely known and accepted that HGH is one of the main reasons jocks rebound from injuries at record speeds.
You think Bud Selig and the gang weren't pleased as punch that the weightlifting team of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds assaulted the home run record and boosted TV ratings?
The integrity of the game and the integrity of the records don't matter. It's all about entertainment. That's all that ever mattered. For entertainment purposes, human beings have been gathering in large stadiums watching men sacrifice their bodies damn near since the beginning of time. Nothing's really changed.
Now modern science can help these men and women better entertain us. These athletes know the risks. They're willing to take the risks because there's so much money at stake. The owners, executives and coaches are willing to let the players risk everything because it doesn't make sense to pay Bonds millions of dollars if he can only perform at his highest level for 90 games a season.
And we, the fans, we don't care. We just want to be entertained. We don't care who's on drugs. It's never stopped us from watching a movie or attending a rock or rap concert. For years and years, we've cheered on "college-educated" athletes who we know can't read, write, speak, count past 10 or recite their ABCs. We don't care about cheating. And we damn sure don't look for any real virtue in sports. It's a waste of time. We're not that na´ve.
Instead of lying to ourselves and, subsequently, lying to our kids, why not try the truth? Professional sports, like the rest of the entertainment industry, have always been devoid of morality, integrity.
The government allows the meat we consume to be injected with steroids without making the public aware of the risk factors. And President Bush wants me to get outraged because a bunch of jocks in pursuit of financial security and fame choose to inject themselves with 'roids. Not gonna happen.
I'm not condoning steroid use. I never used them as an athlete. But steroid abuse in professional sports is not a crisis worthy of the attention of our attorney general. Widespread steroid abuse is a predictable ramification of pro and college sports morphing into big business. You're not going to eliminate -- or even reduce -- the abuse by sending non-violent people to jail.
But you might get re-elected.
Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.