Here's one way to make national news as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Holliday, talking on satellite radio recently, came out in favor of blood tests and 162-game suspensions for steroid users. (Via BTF.) He joins Frank Thomas on the list of terrifyingly enormous sluggers to come out recently against PEDs. (Thomas was vocally against them his whole career, but has wisely resumed talking about it as his date with the Hall of Fame voters comes up.)
Personally, I don't think the suspensions he suggests here are tenable, given the specter of false positives, but I can't begrudge a guy who's actually playing against steroid users his opinion. And I get it—knowing that people are getting caught once and then going right back to it has to be both frustrating and a little inexplicable to someone who isn't using. But there are two peripheral points that I think are worth untangling:
1. He—and the interviewer, more particularly—mention a little disappointedly that teams continue to sign players coming off steroid suspensions and fans continue to watch them play. Holliday, rightly, relates this to his belief that steroid suspensions should be longer, including a possible lifetime suspension after a second positive test.
I don't think the interviewer is seeing the same nuance, though—he seems to believe that Melky Cabrera should, in addition to the league-mandated suspension, be ostracized or pelted with tomatoes or made to register as a steroid user on a government website. As individuals we can react however we want to Melky Cabrera, but I think it's unhelpful to suggest that official suspensions should, broadly, be supplemented by additional unofficial sanctions. He paid his debt to baseball society; if you think it's insufficient, join Holliday in suggesting the price itself be higher.
2. I'd like to register—again—my discontent with the pervasive fan image as it relates to steroid use: A father having to tell his son It Ain't So, and that baseball isn't clean, etc. My dad has not had a favorite baseball player since Warren Spahn retired, so your mileage may vary, but I don't think it adds much to these conversations.
Here's one reason I feel that way: steroids are nowhere near the top of my sports-moral-quandaries list. Steroids have health risks, and cheating in a competition is wrong. Granted, and worth discussing. But the moral risks inherent in professional sports—in giving young kids selected for nothing but athletic ability millions of dollars up-front, putting them on the road all year, and raising them up (whether they want it or not) as heroes for younger kids—go so much further than that. And if we're really going to have this conversation—if we're really worried about what the rigors of competition do to these people, and what their disintegration in the spotlight does to the people watching them—all the bankruptcies and "[player name] girlfriend" Google searches seem worth talking about along with the concussions and drugs. If we aren't, it just feels like another excuse to register our own discontent with steroids.
Pro sports have never been a totally uncomplicated, pure thing. That's why Stan Musial was Stan Musial; it's why the stories we hear about Matt Holliday, and the uncomplicated way he presents himself, make us feel good instead of nothing at all.