|Olney provides weak justifcation to discuss steroids|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on April 29, 2009
Buster Olney, who I respect and admire deeply, seemingly became an apologist for the media continually running stories about steroids in baseball. ESPN, for whom Olney works, has written and discussed the issue of steroids extensively.
Here's Olney's case for doing continuing steroid coverage.
The Little League season began in Southington, Conn., the other day, and the oldest kids in the Southington South Youth Baseball League gathered in the infield at Carl A. Verderame Field and talked about questions they would ask if they had a chance to be a reporter and interview their favorite players.
A kid of about 11 or 12 years old raised his hand in the second row to begin the conversation and said that if he had an opportunity to interview any player, that player would be Alex Rodriguez. And he would ask:
"Why did you take steroids?"
Every time there is a spat of steroid stories, much commentary from readers comes in along the lines of Why are we talking about this? and I'm sick of steroid talk and Stop with the steroid stuff, nobody cares.
But somebody does care about this topic. Kids care a lot about it. During the offseason, our 9-year-old came into the living room crestfallen and asked whether it was true that Michael Phelps had used drugs, and she asked "Why?"
At a grade school close to our home in early March, the kids got a chance to ask any questions about writing or sports, and the first question was about Rodriguez and his steroid use. The students asked more questions about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and steroids.
The first time I heard hints from players about possible steroid use in baseball was in 1989, the summer after sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal at the Olympics for a positive steroid test, and the first season after Jose Canseco's name was publicly connected with the stuff during the '88 World Series. A trickle of conversation turned into a flood by 2005, so within the sport and among many older fans, this topic has played out over thousands of days.
But for the youngster sitting in the infield in Southington, for a bright-eyed fourth-grader in Yorktown, N.Y., the ethical questions are new and fresh and not overwhelmed by cynicism. Children haven't been conditioned to expect that most players confronted with the question of whether they used will lie. The youngster sitting in the infield still expects the players he sees on television to try to do the right thing, and when they don't, he wants resolution to his confusion.
Why should we keep talking about it? Well, partly because many people who have questions are talking about it for the first time.
First, it seems a little odd that Olney would base his justification for covering steroids more on the thoughts of a group of 12-year-olds. That's not the target audience of ESPN nor is that group even the more representative of the sports population. Sure, kids that age love sports, but ESPN has never catered to that audience before. Why use that as a reason to justify steroid coverage now?
Second, kids are going to ask questions about McGwire, Clemens and Bonds for two reasons. One is that those players are pretty good. Bonds was one of the best hitters all time, maybe top three, even if he was chemically enhanced. Clemens is one of the best pitchers of the last 25 years, even if he was chemically enhanced. McGwire broke one of the most famous records in baseball, even if he was chemically enhanced. Those are the players kids want to know about because those players are good. No offense to, say, Cody Ransom, but kids don't care too much about him.
The second point is that's because those are the names ESPN and other media outlets continually put into the news. If the media advertised guys like Albert Pujols or Tim Lincecum more, their names would be more recognizable to young kids everywhere. This is called the agenda-setting affect of the media; what the media reports, its viewers discuss.
Third, Buster, did you ask the kids what football players they'd talk to? I'm pretty sure steroid users like Shawn Merriman and Rodney Harrison wouldn't come up. Instead, it would be players like Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson. That's because steroids in football is underreported and steroids in baseball is over reported.
Buster: Let parents discuss steroids with their children. Let the parents sit their children down and say something like, "Barry Bonds cheated to get ahead. We don't want you to do that. Do whatever you do by not cheating and we'll be proud of you."