With the release of the Mitchell report last Thursday, there has been a lot of talk about cheating. The assumption is that those who use steroids aren't playing by the rules.
But, in actuality, the rules didn't ban some of these substances, including human growth hormone, until professional athletes had used them, sometimes on a regular basis for many years. In fact, HGH wasn't banned until 2005, and to complicate matters, it doesn't show up in standard urine tests.
So is it cheating if the rules don't explicitly ban specific substances? Is it cheating if you can't be caught?
I think the saddest aspect of the discussion in the last few days is that it has centered around evidence. It has focused on which players were named in the report, and what "hard evidence" officials had on them. It has been one talking head arguing with another over how punishments should be handed out, or even if they should be inflicted for crimes that occurred before they were actually acknowledged as crimes.
Let's take a look at just one example Andy Pettitte. He was one of the 85 players named in the report, and on Saturday, he admitted he used HGH twice in 2002. He said he used it to recover from an elbow injury. He said he did it because he felt an obligation to recover as quickly as possible for his teammates. He said he only did it twice, and he didn't do it to gain an advantage in competition.
In a statement released by his agent and cited in a number of news articles, Pettitte said, "If what I did was an error in judgement on my part, I apologize."
Sounds a little like a criminal who isn't sorry he stole, but he is very, very sorry he was caught.
He's not sorry that he did it. He's sorry IF it was an error. He never acknowledges it was an error, despite numerous statements indicating that he knew he shouldn't be doing what he did. After all, if it's okay, why keep it a secret?
Pettitte's "admission" and "apology" sounded almost as lame as everything that came out of Commissioner Bud Selig's mouth Thursday.
I was more interested in what Selig had to say than anyone. I am more disgusted by him than I am by the alleged actions of any athlete.
Baseball needed him to say something significant. Instead, we heard more excuses, promises and threats.
I waited to hear something like this: "I take full responsibility for this disaster. It happened on my watch. I knew athletes were using performance enhancing substances, both banned and questionable. I knew this was an issue long before I decided to do something about it. For more than a decade, I have turned a blind eye to it because having players hit 40-plus home runs a year brought fans back to the ballpark. I am to blame for baseball's steroid era and I cannot lead this graceful, beautiful sport out of this swamp. I resign and hope that with this act, I restore some of the integrity that I allowed athletes, trainers and coaches to steal."
You don't have a problem this widespread in your organization and not know about it. And if you do, you shouldn't be in charge anymore.
Selig is either the dumbest man alive or a liar. Either way, he's not good enough to lead baseball where it needs to go now. He has no credibility. To me, he's the biggest cheater of all because he allowed others to do it while he went into his office and counted his money.
I actually blame him more than I blame players like Pettitte. They were competing in a climate where so many athletes were cheating that they had to choose between doing something they knew was wrong or playing at a disadvantage. Being just a little slower to heal might mean millions of dollars less on the next contract.
For most baseball players, thankfully, it wasn't a tough choice. They didn't cheat. They didn't take substances, explicitly banned or not, that they knew to be both dangerous and advantageous. They honored the game that made them rich men. They honored themselves by adhering to the spirit of the rules rather than worrying about technicalities. Instead of worrying about what was laid out in black and white, they stayed away from the gray.
Sports is supposed to teach us about ourselves. Pushing ourselves to physical limits reveals who we are in ways we wouldn't otherwise understand. Athletics holds a mirror to our souls, shows us what we are made of, and allows us to learn new ways of dealing with adversity, pain and obstacles.
I have no doubt that those players who took HGH or steroids did so believing it was cheating. Now that the gray fog that has hung over baseball since the early '90s is finally dissipating, I wonder what those men saw in that mirror. I wonder what, if anything, they've learned about themselves. And I wonder how many of us realize that sometimes the worst instances of cheating occur when no one is watching. They go unnoticed, unpublished and, at least officially, unpunished.We fans may never know for sure who did or didn't use steroids or HGH. In some ways, we don't need to. Because the one person a cheater can never, ever hide his misdeeds from is the very person he sees watching him every day in that mirror.