Yeah, I've been avoiding it. Just as a player accused of doing steroids will never truly prove his innocence, no fan who wades into this mire can avoid being the target of someone else's criticism. But here goes.
It's not that I don't care or that I think steroids are okay. Not only should they be banned because of the unfair advantage, but because the league has a responsibility to try and prevent its players from destroying themselves with harmful substances.
That said, I'm not going to think differently about baseball or the Red Sox because of what happened with Manny.
There are some who'd say that makes me part of the problem, continuing to support a league which harbors steroid abusers. I might agree if it wasn't for the Mitchell Report, the perjury charges against Barry Bonds, the public disgrace of Roger Clemens, and now, Manny Ramirez, the first major player to be caught and suspended in-season - at great expense to his franchise, no less. Even belatedly, imperfectly, the league and the culture at large are treating this as the serious problem it is. Efforts are being made to clean up. Otherwise, how would we even know about Manny in the first place?
But the problem doesn't end there, apparently. There have still been plenty of shrill declarations since this news broke, and the suggestion that Red Sox fans are answerable for Manny's transgression has been a recurring theme. Specifically, some citizens of the Interwebs believe Red Sox fans should disown the championships in 2004 and 2007, on the assumption that Manny was probably using steroids then, too.
Some say that for Sox fans to do anything less would make them hypocrites for having questioned other PED users' continued employment in baseball and continued popularity among many fans.
And I say, bullshit.
For one thing, the timing does make a difference. It's one thing to have a player on your team alleged to have used PEDs, be caught using them, or admit to having used them, and continue to embrace that player. It's another thing entirely to suggest that fans of a team should retroactively declare a championship null and void because a player flunks a drug test years afterwards while playing with another team.
And what about the fact that he plays for another team? Was that an accident? Does anyone actually believe that Boston blindly supported Manny the whole time he was here? Does his exorcism from the clubhouse last summer not count as a rebuke of Manny Being Manny, and all that stood for, from the Red Sox and most of their fans?
Okay, let's say it isn't. Let's say we were willing to claim responsibility for a former Red Sox player's assumed prior PED use. In that case, I'd like to know two things:
- What would our Manny penance look like? Should we hold a ritualistic bonfire of all 2004 and 2007 memorabilia in Government Center? Immediately give away any game tickets currently in our possession, if we rooted for the Sox during Manny's tenure? Make Manny voodoo dolls (those of us who haven't done so already)? Apologize to everyone we meet for having been happy the Red Sox won those World Series?
- What exactly would it accomplish? Would it stop highly competitive but poorly educated rich men from trying to boost or prolong their athletic careers? Would it help scientists develop new and better detection tests?
Or would it just make a few people with disordered priorities, a grudge against the Red Sox, and / or a joyless attitude toward sports feel vindicated?
I'm not saying the Sox have purged themselves of everyone who probably used PEDs. I'm also not saying that Red Sox fans wouldn't embrace a player in the face of ongoing steroid allegations. But it hasn't happened yet, and until it does, recriminations about Sox fans' tacit approval of cheating--and accusations of hypocrisy--are completely jumping the gun.
Maybe self-righteous rage is the point of sports for some people. Maybe there are some people who believe that, through some magical transference, the abilities and, ideally, unimpeachable sportsmanship of athletes reflect on the people who buy a ticket to watch them play.
If that's your cup of tea, so be it. But I don't think there's any point in sucking whatever joy's left out of the game that way. As Joe Posnanski wrote about the Manny mess -
Some tell me that all this is because I’m naive … and I’m OK with pleading guilty to that. I suspect I am naive about sports. I think that sports are fun, games are diversion...a college coach cheating to recruit a player is not on the level of a investment banker cheating retirees out of their pensions and a player who is a jerk to teammates and media members is not on the level of the person who commit violent crimes. There are serious moments in sports, hateful moments, heroic moments. Most of the time, we’re talking about games here.
To that I would add something further - that the real importance, the real contribution sports make to the world, is in the community they create. What makes the game important, what makes the game real, is us. The "interior stadium" referred to by Roger Angell, constructed in our own minds. The way we use it to strengthen our friendships, solidify bonds with family, and create a sense of place and identity in an increasingly disconnected world.
That the actors on the field are imperfect behind the scenes, that all may not be as it seems, is almost entirely beside the point. It is, at the very least, not really news.