The needle and the damage done

After the steroid debacle, how can America’s pastime possibly recover its dignity? By looking to the South African truth and reconciliation model.
By LANCE GOULD  |  December 21, 2007

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Our country’s national pastime is a game stolen from the Brits, perfected by the Cubans, Dominicans, and Japanese, and best enjoyed while eating the cuisine of the Teutons. But now, as baseball catches its breath after absorbing a ’roid-rage-aided punch to the gut — its most difficult moment since 1919’s infamous Black Sox scandal — it might be a good time for Major League Baseball to look at reform models from South Africa, Germany, and, ironically for the All-American game, the Soviet Union.

Baseball’s been brushed back before: by, among other things, a collusion scandal (the owners); labor strikes (both the players and the umpires); recreational-drug scandals (too many players to mention); a betting scandal (which led to baseball’s all-time best hitter being banned from the game); and a loss in stature of the game itself (it’s been dropped by the Olympics as an official sport for the 2012 London Games).

But, of course, the latest scandal — a thoroughly investigated study of the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances — threatens to strip baseball of its last shred of dignity. That’s because a total of 87 players were implicated in the recently issued Mitchell Report (helmed by former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell), including at least one player on every single Major League team, and, worse, a few who currently hold some of the game’s most precious records and, until recently, seemed bound for Cooperstown.

While baseball has managed to weather some of its earlier difficulties, this latest erosion of credibility may be too much for fans to forgive. Unless, that is, ex-used-car-salesman commissioner Bud Selig (admittedly not the most confidence-inspiring figure) were to take proactive steps to ensure the integrity of the game and its players. One way to do this is to look, as absurdly as it sounds, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established by South Africa’s post-Apartheid government, while another is to review Mikhail Gorbachev’s last-gasp Soviet policy of glasnost.

The TRC was founded in 1995 to help the newly unfettered people of South Africa come to terms with the horrors of the Apartheid era. TRC hearings, in fact, set the record straight not just regarding the atrocities committed by the Afrikaner-led National Party’s racist regime (the unequivocal bad guys in the Apartheid saga), but even the transgressions committed by predominately black parties African National Congress and Inkatha. Glasnost was the anti-crookedness program that meant to shine light on the closed-door practices that bred corruption in the USSR.

This is in no way to suggest that the relatively petty shenanigans of a cadre of overpaid kajillionaire athletes are on a par with the horrors of the Apartheid regime of South Africa. But the tenets of the TRC — healing through discovery and discussion, giving voice to transgressors and transgressed alike, preventing such acts from reoccurring, emptying the closets of all skeletons, and, most important, forgiving and moving on — have great restorative powers, and could, if adopted by baseball, help heal the wounds. Call it an ethic cleansing.

In a baseball-adopted TRC, with glasnost transparency, players would be encouraged to come forward and admit their use of steroids, human-growth hormone, the “clear,” or any other performance-enhancing substances. Any player who did so would be granted amnesty. There would be no suspensions, bannings, or punitive damages of any kind, in fact, with one exception: any records held by a player who admits to steroid use would be permanently stamped with an asterisk.

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Related: Review: The Rocket that Fell to Earth, Post-steroid baseball, The year ahead in sports, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , U.S. Government, U.S. Congressional News, USSR,  More more >
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