Monday, August 19, 2013

Teach Your Children? Well.

Last night's Yankees/Red Sox game provided any number of memorable moments, ones that will stick with us for a while. There was Ryan Dempster's repeated attempts to injure Alex Rodriguez. There was Rodriguez's revenge, a monster home run that kicked off the Yankees' game-winning rally. There was Joe Girardi just missing Brian O'Nora with a right hook.

Me, I'll remember the crowd. I'm going to remember more than 30,000 people standing and cheering a man repeatedly throwing a small, hard object at another man. I'll remember how the crowd…a mob, really…egged on Dempster, rewarded his failed efforts with applause, encouraging his violence and imploring him to take another shot at hurting another man. I'll remember the savagery. I'll remember the glee. I'll remember the moment when our inability to properly place "acquired and used substances we don't approve of" in the hierarchy of offenses reached a peak, forever making clear the hypocrisy of the last decade.

Last night happened for a lot of reasons, but one is that we've demonized sports drugs as part of a laughable notion that athletes are responsible for parenting other people's children. "The children" has become a loaded phrase, something of a joke, really, shorthand for nonsense in the nominal protection of the vulnerable. When Congress allowed a grieving father's erroneous beliefs to sidetrack an already ill-conceived hearing into excessive hitting of home runs, it sealed the idea that you could force baseball players to have their behavior tested, monitored, investigated and, if necessary, punished, all for the sake of the children. It was critical that baseball players be shown clean so as to create an example for the young athletes of America, then punished if they broke the rules, to show those same young athletes that cheating in this area would be taken seriously. Baseball gave in to the testing-industrial complex, itself a morass of moral hazard, and sacrificed the privacy rights of its workers for some poorly-reasoned greater good.

We saw how fraudulent that idea was last night, when on national television in a high-visibility game, the children of America were shown that not only was violence the answer to dispute resolution, not only was persisting in violence -- pitch two, pitch three, pitch four -- the path to justice, but that being repeatedly violent would garner you a standing ovation and no discipline. If the point of forcing a prove-your-innocence program, of investigating the behavior of baseball players without bounds, is to establish baseball as a moral force for the good of the children of America, then last night, in its embrace of violence, its encouragement of savagery, set that effort back. I don't care what a man puts in his body or how he defends himself for doing so -- throwing baseballs at him is wrong. Cheering it is disgusting. What did the children at Fenway Park learn last night?

It's never been about the children, of course, They're a red herring. I know this because discussions about the evils of sports drugs are often interrupted by advertisements for beer and Scotch and lottery tickets. We care about the children? Let's ask them. Ask the children of American what is worse for their well-being: beer or synthetic testosterone. I'm serious. Put Gallup in the field to find out whether scratch-offs or HGH have a more deleterious effect on the lives of fourth graders. For that matter, while we're asking, let's see if they're more traumatized by the prevalence of sports drugs or by having things thrown at them by bullies while authority figures stand and watch.

We are completely around the bend on this issue. There's no longer any place in the discussion for facts, for perspective, for placing the issue of sports drugs in the context of other issues that challenge both baseball and society, for placing the issue of sports drugs in the context of the history of both baseball and society. These are complicated issues and they've been reduced to a nonsensical heroes-and-villains narrative because it's easier to talk about the people than the ideas. The ideas are what matter. Ballplayers come and go, chemists comes and go, drugs come and go, ballgames come and go and we're no smarter about the relationships among ballplayers, chemists, drugs and ballgames then we were when this all started.

Thirty thousand people cheered as one man threw a baseball over and over again at another man. What do we tell the children about that?