Five hours after Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez received a 211-game suspension from Major League Baseball for being linked to a company known for providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), he was suited up for that night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. He could play (and continue to receive his $28 million salary) because he appealed MLB’s ruling — sending his case into a months-long review. In doing so, A-Rod managed to make his 12 fellow offenders look good simply by accepting their 50-game suspensions without causing a public scene.
It’s true that, by its steep penalty, MLB was holding Rodriguez up as a model. As handed down, the suspension would have ensured he not don the Yankee pinstripes until at least 2015 — the season he would turn 40.
With an aging body, some say Rodriguez had no choice but to appeal. But, as a player who denied using steroids during a 2007 national newscast only to admit it in 2009, it’s hard not to see Rodriguez as yet another in a long line of public figures devoid of any kind of grace or shame.
In a press conference Aug. 5, Rodriguez — who didn’t comment on whether or not he had used PEDs — said the last seven months had been a “nightmare.” This nightmare, however, could have been avoided entirely had he followed the rules of the sport he professes to love.
Athletes and politicians won’t feel shame because ... like bread and circuses, we choose good entertainment and apathy over moral responsibility.
With such a lack of humility or shame prevalent on the national scene — in sports, politics and beyond — is it any wonder that the next generation is affected? On the collegiate level, P.J. Hairston, a junior guard for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill men’s basketball team, was arrested in June for, among other things, possession of marijuana. After Hairston produced his driver’s license and passed a drug assessment, the state dropped all charges. Hairston was stopped again in late July for going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. He since has been suspended indefinitely by UNC, but one has to wonder: Where was the sense of shame for this 20-year-old?
Perhaps he’s watched Anthony Weiner doggedly plow forward in his bid for the role of New York mayor despite repeated scandals. Perhaps he’s watched Tiger Woods cheat on his wife then be welcomed back into the sport of golf. Perhaps he’s watched Mark Sanford have an affair of his own while governor of South Carolina, then be elected to Congress. Perhaps he’s witnessed San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who, after he was accused of a decade’s worth of sexual harassment, choose not to resign, but rather to enter a two-week therapy program. Perhaps his role model was Alex Rodriguez.
When it comes to combatting the dwindling moral standards of our current culture, Catholics can play a two-tiered role. First: Model good behaviors at home. Put Mass before sports, and good sportsmanship before winning. Second: Demand consequences for immoral behaviors — especially those that are repeated. Athletes and politicians won’t feel shame because we don’t call for it. Like bread and circuses, we choose good entertainment and apathy over moral responsibility.
In the end, it’s about what we choose to accept. And if what we’re accepting is an autographed baseball from Alex Rodriguez on the day he was suspended for cheating, perhaps we’re missing the point.