- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

What should be done about a player’s in-your-face violation of the law banning steroid use in sports?

Fact: Possessing anabolic steroids without a valid prescription is illegal. Most kids, parents, policymakers and common citizens know using dangerous drugs is wrong, not least a drug that produces everything from liver failure to violent paranoia. So why do we tolerate it?

Fact: The penalty for using steroids can be a year in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine for the first offense.

Last fact: Distributing steroids carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 for the first felony offense. So, why are there no prosecuted athletes?

Enter the world of baseball. Here, we admire home-run sluggers charging a holy grail of unbroken records and Hall of Fame status. Then we find players openly challenging the right of Congress to investigate steroid use in professional sports, boldly denying the incontrovertible truth of documents seized from steroid dealers, denying knowledge of what they were seen doing, denying distribution to other players, appearing before grand juries with “dog-ate-my-homework, don’t-know-what-that-was” excuses.

Never mind if we feel like cheering their hits. Why are they not arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced — in short, treated like everyone else? What gives? Are we afraid to call things by their right name? Are we worried about popular discontent in the stands?

Add salt to that public wound. They now mock prosecutors and Congress, suggesting other issues are “more important,” thumbing their noses at our legal system and oversight. They saunter away, above it all — above the law, so it seems.

We common ticket-buyers, you know dumb parents with giddy kids, are just so much furniture in their well-adorned lives. Drugs that helped them advance are OK.

Sheesh. Where do you begin? Let’s just try. … Why should this stuff be investigated, prosecuted and why does it matter?

(1) Those are the rules. We live in a nation of laws, not lawless sluggers.

(2) Admirable historical figures are not cheats.

(3) Baseball’s antitrust exemption is not a personal exemption from criminal liability for fast-track baseball players.

(4) More kids are beginning to use steroids — guess why?

(5) There is an old thing called honor. It goes with other values, coincidentally at America’s heart. You know, like honesty, hard work, respect for those who climbed unaided, old-fashioned stuff, integrity, dusty pants, aches, pains, real life.

Look at these steroid-pumpers from another angle. What would Lou Gehrig say to — you name the player? What would Gehrig have done if offered a shortcut to fame? I can tell you — he would have looked that offer in the eye long and hard, shamed it into dropping its eyes, and done what he always did: go back to work. Self-respect meant more to him than a trample-thy-neighbor dash for misplaced adulation.

Or think about it this way. What if you learned that the 1927 New York Yankees had cheated their way to the World Series? What if Jimmy Foxx was not the guy you thought he was, but a fraud? Do you think Babe Ruth leaned on the crutch of injection drugs and lies? Would he be the Babe if he had? What would Hank Aaron say about someone who took the Rosie Ruiz route to victory?

And what, in the end, do you tell your kids? Fame and money at all costs? Forget honor? Forget the men who played with sheer grit, not “the cream” and “the beans?” Do you tell them just forget it all, stuff of dreams? Do you tell them the Hall of Fame will be fake, a place where noble souls and determination mix with shame and shameless drug abuse?

No, that is not baseball. That is not America. You tell them these men are cheating — cheating themselves, the fans and baseball. They are playing a different game, playing in a lesser league. You remind them that in baseball, as in life, truth and justice matter. And you tell them that, one day, the “powers that be” will put it right again. And if they do not, truth and honor do not change. They are as they have always been — important, both in baseball and in life.

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group in Gaithersburg, Md.

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