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JANUARY 24, 2008

Change has to come from within....if and when it's wanted

It’s difficult to enforce rules on people who don’t want them in the first place. Trying to keep steroids out of sports is proving to be no exception.

For the record, I grew up in Union City, NJ…only a few towns over from the birthplace of Frank Sinatra – and baseball. So growing up, as you might expect, I both listened to a lot of Frank Sinatra and played a lot of baseball. Hoboken had all of the good athletic fields though, so we always had ot make the walk down there, through Weehawken, and past the Lincoln Tunnel.

The distinguishing trait of baseball (and all sports) for me back then was the fact that there were no umpires or referees. We used the honor system…and if the honor system failed, we used another system. If a batter crowded the plate, he was gently reminded where the strike zone was with a bit of brushing back from the pitcher...and if that failed, then the pitcher used something called “chin music”.

Nobody owned a batting helmet, and only half the kids would have owned gloves (which worked out perfectly, because only half of the kids were in the field at the same time).

When we played football, we probably didn’t know all of the rules…but some were unspoken and always followed. Hits were hard but not dirty…and if someone made a dirty hit on one of your friends…well, then you had to enforce that unspoken rule on the next play.

When I left for college, I started playing rugby for Seton Hall, and even though we had referees, there was a great deal of what I’ll call player-based enforcement of the rules – which is common at all levels of the game.

But thinking back on it…player-enforcement of rules tends to work in every game, at all levels – regardless of the rule (at least in my experience). Right now, the players don’t actually seem to want to get the drugs out of the game. If we view the players union as an extension of their will, then it’s actually quite obvious that the players don’t want drugs out of the game. The union has fought tooth and nail to keep players safe from testing positive.

Let’s take this a step further though.

The fans don’t want the drugs out of the game either. You don’t and I don’t. Attendance at games has never been higher, paraphernalia sales (not that kind) are at an all time high, and salaries are obscene. Oh...and the owners are all making more money too.

And…umm…wait a sec…I forget…

Who exactly benefits from getting drugs out of baseball? Oh, right…not the players or the owners. Doesn’t anyone else think that it’s slightly out of the ordinary for people involved in a business venture to be rallying against something that is profitable for the business? I do.
What we’re seeing is a dog and pony show, where the players and the owners say “yes, this is a huge problem, and we’ll do our best to get rid of it” and what they really mean is “this is making us a ton of money, but to get Congress off our backs and have some degree of plausible deniability for both us and the fans, we’re going to pretend that we’re doing something about it”.

Going back to my original point, if the players wanted this to stop, they’d police it from within. Kind of like what we see happening when a player from the Yankees gets hit with a pitch playing against the Mets…you have no doubt that the next chance the Yanks’ pitcher gets, he’s going to put a ball in the back of a Met. It’s how sports have always been, and it’s not going to change.

Watch a hockey game, and you’ll see that they have players on the ice who are specifically there as “enforcers”…and again, there is policing done from within, and it helps the game-because it enforces the rules that the players all tacitly agree on.
Taking the drugs out of the game is something that the players clearly aren’t for, the fans aren’t for, and the owners aren’t for. And that’s why we’re not going to see it happen.

If a change is going to come, it would (and could only) be from within.



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