by Abby Margolis Newman
Well, the New York Yankees are going to the World Series again -- and boy, am I relieved. My youngest son, Henry (age 10) is a passionate and loyal Yankee fan, and frankly, I feared the emotional consequences if the Yanks had lost the ALCS to the Angels. Two years ago, when the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs, Henry cried as if his heart were broken. (I was a die-hard New York Knicks fan when I was his age and used to cry whenever the Knicks lost, so he comes by his feelings honestly.)
A few weeks ago, when the L.A. Dodgers were still competing for the National League Championship against the Phillies, I overheard a conversation between Henry and his oldest brother, Jonah (age 16, an ardent Red Sox fan), which went something like this:
Jonah (referring to current Dodgers player and ex-Red Sox Manny Ramirez): Manny's not doing that well this year.
Henry: That's because he's not on the "juice" anymore.
Jonah: A-Rod took steroids too!
Henry: Yeah, but that was in 2004.
Ever since the Barry Bonds scandal (which hit us hard here in the San Francisco Bay Area) and the 2007 George Mitchell report on the usage of steroids in baseball, there's been a lot of discussion in our home about who is and who is not on "the juice." When it was reported earlier this year that A-Rod (Yankees player Alex Rodriguez, one of the team's stars) admitted taking steroids, Henry wept once again. He was shattered by this news.
The worst part about this whole thing is that, while the boys were upset about Bonds, the Mitchell Report, and the news about A-Rod, they were not particularly surprised. As long as they have been paying attention to baseball, steroids have been part of the story. Rumors of players taking performance-enhancing illegal drugs have been around almost as long as the boys have been alive. They see it as just another part of baseball: some players cheat.
This brings to mind the 1919 World Series, when several Chicago White Sox players, including "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, conspired with gamblers to throw several games. This had a seismic effect on American baseball fans. There was utter disbelief, shock, horror--people simply could not comprehend that their heroes, these baseball players whom adults admired and boys wanted to emulate, could possibly be so dishonest, could dishonor the game in this way.
As much as I wouldn't want to go back to 1919 (for one thing, as a woman, I couldn't have voted), there is something about the innocence of that era for which I yearn. People believed in their heroes then, not just in sports, but in other leadership positions too. Now, not only do we have boys all across America shrugging their shoulders when they hear that more and more of their baseball icons are accused of using steroids, but we also have a new generation of kids--mine included--who grew up under eight years of the Bush presidency and whose belief in basic fairness has been shattered in all kinds of ways.
What they have learned is that an American president will lie to get us into an unnecessary and endless war. That the Bush administration saw nothing wrong with illegally wiretapping its own citizens. That we tortured people.
The baseball scandal shocks me because I recognize that my kids are shocked by almost nothing. Unlike the brokenhearted baseball fans who cried out, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" when Shoeless Joe confessed to participating in the "Black Sox" scandal, our kids think that everyone cheats.
Cheating. Lying. Lawbreaking. These are behaviors our children have witnessed in their political leaders and their sports heroes. But unlike kids back in Shoeless Joe's time, they have no innocence to shatter. And that's the saddest part.