February 18, 2008

Fan Shen: There seems to be a great disconnect out there between what bothers journalists and what bothers real people. With sports, we saw last week how that disconnect operates, when the jackasses in Congress spent an entire day trying to decide whatever it was Roger Clemens injected into his ass a full decade ago. For sportswriters, it was an issue of Clemens taking steroids and imperiling his HOF credentials. For fans watching the display, it was the comical sight of a former baseball icon ineptly lying, during a spectacle that was little different than the HUAC hearings fifty years ago, with friends being asked to snitch out friends.

One of the sad spectacles we are seeing now is the demand that baseball stars named in the Mitchell Report perform a public self-denunciation ritual that would have embarassed a Maoist satrap during the Cultural Revolution. One pitcher candidly discusses his use of HGH to recover from an injury, and he gets denounced by some harpy for not being contrite enough. Another great refuses to answer questions to a previous Congressional mob some years back, and it's as if he leaked the H-Bomb secrets to the Reds. So it's no wonder that the first inclination of some players is to issue the non-apology apology: Mistakes Were Made, I Regret Anything That May Have Offended Others, and I'm Sorry to Have Been a Distraction.

Fans, of course, could care less. Although there has always been a consensus point of view that the use of anabolic steroids is worthy of public admonishment, largely because they are both unhealthy for the user and give the user a competitive advantage, the use of HGH simply doesn't carry the same stigma, for good reason. The evidence that HGH has a deleterious impact on adult users simply isn't as overwhelming, and the motivation for using, to recover quicker from injuries, is one all fans can cheer. That it can also be used to more quickly recover from fatigue is more problematic, but I doubt there are any Dodger fans out there who regret being excited about seeing Eric Gagne coming into a game in 2004. Smoking pot is also against the law, but I doubt that will keep Barack Obama out of the White House this November.

Like the recurring media obsession with college athletes getting money under the table, it is a topic that simply doesn't resonate in the real world. Malum prohibitum violations rarely do, since all of us "cheat," to some extent. All of us overstay our time in a one-hour parking stop, hoping we don't get caught, and the fact that occasionally we do means we don't begrudge others for doing the same. But much like the a-holes on talk radio who obsess about the "illegals" coming across the border to pick lettuce at $5 an hour, sportswriters need a focus to vent their feelings of inferiority, so the Ritual Denunciation story about the Athlete Who Cheats is the hoary chestnut of the Toy Department.

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