Stop the lying — in baseball, in D.C. and elsewhere

I won’t make generalizations about “my generation,” so let me speak for myself.

I have learned not to trust authority figures, at least those on the TV and in newspapers. I’ve grown up in a time when public figures are routinely dishonest. Outright lies and extraordinary secrecy have regularly made headlines in the 21st century. Young as I am, I’ve seen no other way.

This is, in fact, a sports column.

On Dec. 13, former Senator George Mitchell held a press conference to present the conclusion of his 20-month investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball. The league had commissioned the report, which named 89 active and retired players believed to have used steroids. Commissioner Bud Selig lauded the report and urged us to forget the past. “People have different ideas about what happened a decade or two decades ago,” he said, minimizing both the players’ steroid use and the league’s complicity.

I have an idea of what happened in baseball over the last decade: Hundreds of baseball players used steroids — drugs illegal in the United States and banned by the league. Steroid use became so prevalent that it worked its way out of the shadows, quite literally when players began using steroids in team training facilities. Vials and syringes began to inconveniently fall out of bags and lockers for other players, sportswriters, trainers and even managers to see. When George Mitchell began his investigation, steroid use was an open secret, known to anyone, and everyone, with access.

Yet everyone acted like this was news. Trainers, managers and league officials reacted to the Mitchell Report with similar incredulity. Managers claimed they never asked questions, and (not surprisingly) their players never brought it up. Trainers argued their role was simply to advise on — who knows what? “It sure wasn’t steroids,” they stammered. And the league sat back, gesturing around their Park Avenue offices. “We don’t know what goes on in clubhouses,” they argued. “We’re clean all the way up here.” Never mind that at least one former player had died after extensive steroid use and that sports leagues around the world have been tainted by performance-enhancing drugs. No one knew anything, we were told.

I don’t buy it.

Maybe it’s just the cynic in me. But this isn’t new. Major League Baseball is only the most recent example of a national authority twisting or withholding information from the public in an attempt to cover a potential scandal or to save face once a story is out. Unfortunately for us, the other recent lies that have come to light have been more serious.

Five years after our government marched us to war, jokes about weapons of mass destruction aren’t funny anymore. Several more columns would be needed to detail the lies of Scooter Libby, the secrecy of Dick Cheney, the amnesia of Alberto Gonzales and the corruption of dozens of politicians in the last decade.

Electing a symbol for “change” will not be enough.

I began thinking about my cynicism of national authority figures in the fall, during meetings with Joe Gordon, the dean of undergraduate education. I was opposed to the addition of two new residential colleges, which the University was calling “proposed” and which I suspected were all but built. Along with Bill Schmidt ’09, I met with Dean Gordon to see what real effect students could have in the discussion about new colleges (which I still believe to be inevitable). In our discussions, Dean Gordon was receptive to our opposition, but more concerned about our suspicion that we were being lied to by the school administration.

“I was struck by thinking, ‘How are young people hearing these messages from authority figures?’” Dean Gordon said. “You might be hearing them in a particular way because you’ve had this experience of national leaders and others just misleading people, giving wrong information or hiding information. So you might have developed the sense that that’s what leaders do. That they don’t speak plainly, that they don’t deal plainly with people. That they spin and distort things. It struck me that that means it’s all the more incumbent on us here, teachers and administrators of your school, to deal plainly with you.”

Perhaps the only reason I suspected deception from the University is that I have seen leaders and authority figures in the rest of our society treat the public with disrespect through lies and secrecy.

In the sports world, this trend of dishonesty can and should be stopped. The incentive for truth is great now that Congress is involved and has begun mandating testimony under oath. But it can be much greater. The harshest consequences steroid users face today is the loss of admiration from fans and votes for the Hall of Fame. If Major League Baseball and other sports leagues are serious about “moving on” from the problem of steroids, we need to know the truth about past steroid use. And the incentives must be changed to reward truth. That’s a step that starts with the fans, but it can be embraced or rejected by the leagues.

With such progress toward honesty and transparency, we’ll all be better off.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column now appears on Thursdays.

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