I haven’t spoken much about the steroid scandal in the seven years of this blog's existence. There’s a reason for that. And even if you’re as sick of the topic as I am, I hope you’ll grant me this day of indulgence.
You see, I want to start something, and today seems like as good a day as any.
The reason you haven’t heard any steroidal musings is because when news has broken, there have already been plenty of voices. Some have been indignant, some leering, some analytical, but they’ve been there, and they’ve been crowded, looking for ears.
That’s the temptation when looking over a mob. You look upon all those wonderful ears, sense the power, and search for the lever. But, of course, when the mob is also talking, that’s also the hardest time to be heard. Especially when you’re whispering.
So now, while the mob is silent, let’s whisper a while. Let’s whisper of forgiveness.
I’ll start by asking for some.
I have privately referred to efforts that ferret out steroid users as a witch hunt, which is as inflammatory a phrase as anything the mob has uttered. I was wrong. After some reflection, I don’t believe that, or at least not in the worst sense of the phrase. The tragedy of the Salem witch trials or McCarthy hearings wasn’t the fervor, it was that so many innocent people were accused, tried and punished. That is the tipping point of a witch hunt – when the zeal drives the mob from prosecuting the guilty to prosecuting the innocent.
So far, in the steroid scandal, that doesn’t appear to have happened, though I suppose Mark McGwire might argue that it has. It doesn’t appear that anyone will bother to prove that he was guilty, but that hasn’t stopped Hall-of-Fame voters from convicting and punishing him. But for the most part, the confessions surrounding steroid abuse seem to be genuine and not coerced. The various steroid investigations don’t appear to be a true witch hunt.
That doesn’t mean some of the uglier ingredients aren’t there. We can start with a mob fueled by envy. Like fans who view ballplayers as overpaid prima donnas. Or media members who suffer for a half-baked quote on a daily basis. Even ex-ballplayers who were born too early to share in this generation's riches.
The strongest indicator for the level of outrage directed at each ballplayer has been the height of their achievement before their confessions. Our volume, our venom and our demand for the goriest of details is in direct correlation with his fame. The bigger they are, the louder they fall.
We can add territorial desire. The commissioner’s office hasn’t been afraid to blame the players union for this entire fiasco. After all, that next Collective Bargaining Agreement is coming up in 2012. There’s no better time to start gathering public opinion real estate than right now.
And finally, there is a symbol of righteousness that justifies all kinds of ugliness, whether it’s a cross, or a flag, or the number 62. We attach ourselves to these symbols, and find ourselves conceding the moral high ground to whoever raises it high in the air. What’s more, it’s how we get the intelligentsia to buy into the discussion, prolonging the issue.
The answer to all of these is the same: forgiveness. Forgive the guilty for their weakness or greed. Forgive the innocent for turning a blind eye. Forgive the caretakers for their ignorance. Forgive the angry for their disillusioned rage.
And we can save a healthy dose of that forgiveness for ourselves, too. The steroid era is a market-driven phenomenon. We’re the ones who demanded more night games, and then looked the other way while ballplayers chomped down greenies, which are as illegal as any steroid. We’re the ones who tuned in to watch the home run races. We’re the ones demanding our team pay top dollar for free agents.
We’re also the ones approving grand juries. Tuning into congressional hearings. Relishing leaked confidential test results. And marching along with the mob, participating in the zeitgeist.
But we’re also the ones who can just as easily start forgiving. Just like we forgave baseball its labor battles, its segregation, and its gambling habit. We can do so without requiring public self-immolation. And we can do so softly, privately, to members of the mob, both when they’re yelling and when they are silent.
I’ll start. I haven’t spoken much about the steroid scandal in the seven years of this blog’s existence. Today seems like as good a day as any to start whispering forgiveness.