What is happening to American professional athletics? The recently released Mitchell Report has shocked the sports world. This report on chemical cheating in baseball finally put on record the decade old reports of widespread steroid use in baseball. It also identified some of baseball's finest players, accusing them of using illegal drugs to enhance their performance.
The fallout from this report has sent shockwaves throughout American athletics. The use of illegal drugs in sports is not only cheating, but it sets a bad example and can harm one's body. Former Senator Mitchell also acknowledged that the "illegal use in baseball victimizes the majority of players who don't use them." It creates an uneven playing field by presenting all players with the sense that they cannot compete or be as good as their competitors unless they resort to the use of banned substances.
The list of who's who in the Mitchell Report is troubling. However, what is more troubling is all the finger pointing and attempts to put a PR spin on this tragedy. In time, all the guilty will be identified. More importantly than the who's who is what has this scandal done to the integrity and reputation of American professional athletics?
For years, many people have raised concern about illegal drug use on the part of professional athletes. That issue is always in the forefront after an athlete has failed a drug test or gotten busted by the police because of drug possession and/or use. Most sports enthusiasts do not want to know or believe that illegal drugs are as prevalent in professional athletics as the Mitchell Report indicates. Former Senator Mitchell's report only deals with professional baseball. Many who have been involved in this investigation would suggest that all of our major professional sports have a similar problem.
Hopefully, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will do what he has said he will do! After the Mitchell Report was released, Commissioner Selig indicated that he would follow up on sanctions and seriously look at the consequences that should be imposed on the guilty athletes. Clearly, it would be tragic for all sports and athletes, if the findings of this report were swept under the carpet and ignored. These findings have far-reaching implications that go way beyond professional athletics. The ramifications are mind-boggling. Every coach and athlete should sit up and take notice.
Time will tell how blemished professional baseball will be in the future because of all this. Hopefully, all of the other athletes who play by the rules will not suffer because of the poor, selfish choices of a few of their colleagues. Coaches and trainers should also be held accountable and be more attentive to what's going on with their athletes.
The use of performance enhancing drugs in athletics is not a new issue. However, it is also not just an issue of concern for professional athletes, but a serious issue for college and high school athletes. We hear constant stories of young athletes taking steroids to improve performance on the field, strengthen their bodies and/or build up their muscles.
There is an ongoing lack of clarity as to which substances are legal and healthy. When some coaches and athletic trainers are confronted, they dance around what their athletes have used to enhance their performance and body development.
As a former coach and athlete, it seems to me that the whole arena of athletics has gotten out of control. The purpose of middle school and high school athletics was to build character and integrity, to teach teamwork and to encourage leadership. When young men and women tried out for a sport, they were reminded that they were to be role models within their schools. That meant they needed to be reasonable students in the classroom and clearly they needed to be positive examples outside the classroom and on the ball field. Although winning was important, it wasn't everything!
Traditionally, athletics at the middle school and high school level were seen as a positive investment. They were viewed as positive activities that would keep the student busy and out of trouble. Student athletes would stay out of trouble because their coaches set a standard of behavior that they expected every team member to comply with. If a team member was not in compliance, there would be a consequence. The coach held everyone to that standard!
Unfortunately, although middle school and high school athletics are still a positive activity, in some communities the standard of excellence has been lowered and/or impaired. It seems that some involved in junior high and high school athletics have changed the traditional philosophy of participating in sports.
It's almost as if a double-edged sword has emerged. There is a greater emphasis on physical training, bodybuilding and winning, and less emphasis on character, integrity and leadership.
For example, most high schools throughout our county have a student handbook. In that handbook is a code of conduct that all students are expected to embrace. It also outlines the consequences for noncompliance, whether it's grades and/or social choices as they relate to illegal drug and alcohol use and violence. The problem is not with the clarity of the handbook and the consequences it outlines, but rather with its' implementation and enforcement.
Too often, athletes are held to a different standard than mainstream students. If the mainstream student gets busted for pot, there is the handbook protocol for handling it. If an athlete gets busted for pot, too often, it is handled in a different manner, giving the students a very mixed message.
Most high schools are clear about the use of alcohol among students. Many high school sports programs have student athletes sign a contract promising not to engage in illegal drug or alcohol use during their respective season. That contract clearly specifies no drinking or illegal drug use, after school or on weekends. Many athletes have told me off the record that they drink and party extensively during the season, especially if they are winning. They have indicated that they know nothing will be done about that social behavior, unless it affects their schoolwork or their conduct in school.
Too many parents have indicated that they feel there's nothing they can do to stop teenage drinking. That attitude is very troubling because there is plenty we can do, especially in regard to our athletes. If every athletic program held its' athletes consistently accountable for their social choices, at least our athletes would be in compliance to their school's code of conduct. They would also be positive role models for their peers.
Hopefully, the Mitchell Report will cause high school coaches, college coaches and athletic directors to be more vigilant with student athletes as they train and prepare for their respective sports and help them to remember - it is a sport. Student athletes are supposed to have a life outside of athletics. Let's raise the bar once again and call our athletes to be examples of leadership, character and integrity. Let's hold them accountable both on and off the field. Let's remind them that winning isn't everything, but rather how you play the game is the most important thing!