Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Baseball Fans Not Staying Away: The New York Times Murray Chase has an article on how there has been a surge of ticket sales in major league baseball.

    What's wrong with these people who paid for tickets? Don't they know they should be boycotting baseball games? Baseball is full of cheaters, isn't it? Isn't that what the antisteroids squad would have you believe? But whatever the truth, fans all over the country, not just in Florida, are demonstrating that they don't care if some players have bulked up artificially.

This is yet another example that fans care much less about what players do on their own time and much more about what they do on the field. Major League Baseball lost its greatest number of fans, not because of any off-the-field scandal, after the strike in 1994, which took players off the field and cancelled the World Series. Fans have often responded to criminal allegations with cheers and not boos. The sports world has recently witnessed this phenomenon in the context of Kobe Bryant, who has been resoundly cheered in many arenas. Ray Lewis was charged with manslaughter, but Ravens fans continue to buy his jersey by the hundreds. Numerous professional athletes have been suspended for drug abuse, sanctioned for domestic battery and charged with driving under the influence. Does this matter? Not so long as the player continues to hit home runs, hit buzzer beaters and rush for 100 yards a game.

By and large, fans see the uniform and not the person underneath. They cheer #8 because of his spectacular plays, but do not care about what Kobe Bryant does in his spare time. They cheer the team to the victory, while looking past the fact that human beings with human problems comprise the victors. Now it seems that fans are willing to accept steroid use, so long as their heroes continue to hit monstrous home runs. This is a disturbing trend in sports, and ultimately, the victims will be the athletes themselves. Steroid abuse has been shown to have horrible consequences, even leading to serious illness and death, and the negative effects of newer drugs are not even known. Players may be leveraging their long-term health for current glory, and fans are willing accomplices by turning a blind eye to such abuse.

It is unclear how many professional athletes take performance-enhancing drugs. So long as the respective players unions continue to stonewall proposals for drug testing, no one will know the true extent of the problem. For the sake of their own members, unions should work closely with the leagues and health professionals to devise a system of drug testing, and perhaps more importantly, drug counseling. Players found to be addicted should be allowed counseling and treatment, all confidentially and all while they continue to play. No public stigmatization.embarrassmentsment. Only if the drug use continues should players be asked to take time off from the game.

Fans use sports as a diversion from real life, and because of this, tend to glorify the athletes and overlook their problems. However, while the fans, right or wrong, can afford to ignore this problem, the athletes and their representatives cannot. For the long-term good of both the players and the game, all of the interested parties should step forward to put an end to this epidemic.


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