More suspensions related to the illicit use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) were handed down by Major League Baseball.  They were neither surprising, nor unique.  Performance enhancing drugs have become so much the fabric of elite sport that some days it is difficult to determine if using them is unacceptable… perhaps breaking written rules, but not breaking the unwritten rules of baseball.  Somehow not abiding by explicit codes of conduct has become a moral ambiguity.

Mark McGwire, not a seemingly bad guy yet a benefactor of a drug enhanced home run total, reflected upon the potential impact of the most recent PED related suspensions.  Asked if this may signal the end of such illicit behaviors in baseball, he mused, “I hope so. I really hope so.”  If the past twenty years of baseball history are any evidence, this seems like a naïve wish.  Yet this current hitting coach did share an insight that should buffer his and our hopes for a cleaner game.  Players themselves are starting to come out vocally against the use of PED’s.  Evan Longoria led the way with some strong Tweets and other players followed suit.  Perhaps the wall of silence (sic: acceptance) is falling.  This is critical.

Rules and regulations about moral conduct are poor motivators towards fair and healthy play.  The player himself makes the final choice to inject the juice or rub the cream, but the steps to the shady doctor’s (or pseudo-doctor) office are paved by community and culture.  A spiral spins like a hurricane around the player, beginning with his closest advisors, extending to teammates and teams, through management, into the governing bodies of sport, and ultimately through fanbases - a storm that smothers intellect and reason creating the subtle, yet powerful emotions that lead ethical decisions.  Fans loudly cheering homeruns despite the nagging voice in their heads suggest that the athlete’s physique looks more one of a comic book superhero than human being.  The general managers that invited players into their clubhouses despite hearing whispers of pharmacological assistance. Teammates that remained silent despite an unlevel playing field tilting more and more each season.  Cognitive science is beginning to show us that in life and sport moral decisions are not necessarily thought filled, but rather the are emotionally driven.  Emotions thats' roots are laid deeply by community and culture.

This is not a reflection on the rightness or wrongness of the decisions made by professional athletes, but rather a consideration of the fuel that stokes the fire.  Major League Baseball has made a strong step in recent days.  Players are rumbling about a cleaner game.  Can community and culture join these nudges to emotionally drive a new era in baseball?

About the Author

Adam Naylor, EdD, CC-AASP

Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos SPC and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Sport Psychology at Boston University’s School of Education.

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