I should preface this by saying that it's very recently I've brought myself to care at all about the grand world of sports. The great American pastime was ruined for me as a small child growing up in New Jersey, when I went to a Phillies game with my dad and spent the whole time trying to catch fly balls (I didn't much see the point of attending any event that you couldn't go home with a souvenir). When one finally, miraculously, landed between my row and the row behind us, the surrounding audience of middle-aged, beer-bellied men decided that the prized baseball ought to be given to the boy sitting behind me: talk about early memories of developing feminism. Baseball, I decided then and there, was a dirty, unfair game. I pouted and ignored sports altogether for approximately the next thirteen years.
All this changed when I turned 21, graduated college, moved into Manhattan and discovered the wide world of bars and the cable TVs that play nonstop in them. I attended my second baseball game in October and was amazed to find that it combined things I love wholeheartedly (Big-screen televisions! The outdoors! Roller-coaster heights! Beer and hot dogs!) into an undeniably fun experience. I was hooked. I followed the baseball season with bated breath right up until the heartbreaking World Series loss of my beloved Phillies to the despicably over-funded Yankees (sorry, New York)-- and luckily, the football season and cutthroat competitive spirit of the office football pool were there to comfort me.
So when the story broke this Monday about Mark McGwire coming clean (sort of) about his use of steroids after accepting the position of hitting coach for the Cardinals, I found myself actually paying attention in a way I wouldn't have a year ago.
No one could claim to have been surprised by McGwire's confession. At the congressional hearing on steroids in 2005, McGwire's statements were evasive, to say the least: basically, that if he'd denied using, he wouldn't have been believed, that his lawyers had advised him to say nothing, that in America we are innocent until proven guilty, and, my personal favorite remark, "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject," in response to a representative's question about whether he was using the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself.
Jose Canseco's 2005 book "Juiced" was less vague, claiming blatantly that McGwire had been using steroids since the 80s. McGwire's constant avoidance of the topic was less a convincing claim of innocence than a formality.
So when Mark McGwire told us on January 11th that he'd been an on-and-off steroid user for decades, including during his historic record-breaking 1998 season, it wasn't shocking. What I found most interesting about his statement was the line, "Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era." Not, "I wish I'd broken all those records with my own physical strength" or even "I wish I'd set a better example for younger generations of players." If he couldn't play with superhuman power, he wished he hadn't played at all.
American sports are about entertainment: we know this because of how much athletes are paid, and how much people will pay to watch them. HD TV wouldn't have happened if not for people wanting to watch sports bigger, better, faster, more impressive. Sports aren't fair or noble. They're just fun. So what do we do when we don't like the means by which athletes give fans exactly what they want?