Rodriguez at press conference
Alex Rodriguez—an all-time baseball great found out to have used PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs)—has become a symbol for what ails America. Major league baseball has suspended Rodriguez (along with 12 other current players) without pay for the rest of the season, although he can still play while he appeals his "sentence."
Rodriguez is the object of an unparalleled degree of hatred from both sports and news commentators and the public. Why, even Donald Trump has slammed Rodriguez! (Trump contrasts him with the good Derek Jeter—Trump knows because both players live in his buildings.) One indicator of his significance is that the New York Times on the same day addressed the Rodriguez affair in six news columns, an editorial, a series of "Room-for-Debate" opinions, and two opinion pieces, including a cataclysmic analysis by seminal Times conservative columnist David Brooks embodying in Rodriguez the failure of American society: "Rodriguez chased self-maximization, which ended up leading to his self-destruction." Isn't self-maximization good?
Brooks' analysis is especially instructive, in that he holds Rodriguez up as an example of selfishness, "for caring more about personal stats than team wins," while demanding all sorts of perks in addition to his contract with the Yankees in 2007 for $275 million over 10 years, the largest ever in American sports. (My favorite perk he demanded: "a clubhouse attendant was required to put a dab of toothpaste on his toothbrush after every game." At least he has good dental hygiene!)
What's this about, and why does Rodriguez deserve such concentrated contempt?
He doesn't. That sports stars are spoiled, selfish creatures—that's news? That athletes do whatever it takes to achieve and maintain superstar status—to become multi-millionaires whose names are recorded forever in the record books (Rodriguez currently stands fifth among lifetime home run leaders)—more news? Of course, we have recently had the Lance Armstrong (seven-time winner of the Tour de France) doping scandal, and more recently the good-guy National League MVP Ryan Braun scandal.
Braun was suspended days before Rodriguez and the others after being found to have lied about not using PEDs—like Rodriguez and every other PED user has lied—when Braun tested positive last year. In fact, do you recall the 2005 Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball? Three types of responses characterized the 11 players who were subpoenaed to testify: super stars who admitted using steroids (e.g., Jose Canseco, who wrote a book titled Juiced), those who refused to say (e.g., Mark McGwire, who had previously admitted doing so, "accidentally"), and those who swore up and down they didn't use them (e.g., Roger Clemens). Guess who the congresspeople hated the most and loved the best. Well, they hated Canseco (who also happens to be Latino, like Rodriguez), cut McGwire a break, and fawned over Clemens, who was subsequently found out to have been lying and was revealed—like McGwire—to have been a regular steroid user.
Here are three reasons why Rodriguez is being vilified—none of which is valid:
1. Making an example of Rodriguez is necessary to rescue Baseball, the symbol of all that is good in America. Baseball was never "good." Guys who come up from poverty, as so many great players did, are often not especially admirable. Instead they have often been racist, substance-abusing jerks (the primary example of the first usually cited is Ty Cobb, and of the latter Babe Ruth). But why blame these individuals for baseball's dark side? Remember that baseball banned African-Americans for a half-century or more, welcomed racists and turned a blind eye towards substance abuse, whether alcohol, amphetamines in the 1980s, and—yes—steroids in the 2000s.
2. Rodriguez is exceptionally bad, per Brooks and Trump. Rodriguez is very visible—hitting 647 home runs, earning a couple of hundred million, and dating Madonna and Kate Hudson (I wonder why those distinguished women liked Rodriguez so much)—but he's not an unusual example of a spoiled superstar. Don't you imagine that, contrary to Brooks, quite a few people would take a drug shortcut if it would earn them $275 million, movie star girlfriends, and a place above Babe Ruth in the record books? Let he who is without sin (or who would be without sin in similar circumstances) cast the first stone.
3. Punishing Rodriguez will finally stop baseball players, people, kids, and everyone you can imagine from using artificial means to improve their performances, aspire to prominence and greatness, and gain the greatest possible rewards given the bodies/selves nature has provided them with.
No it won't.
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