Bad role models make for bad kids

As Congress takes a long overdue look at drug use in Major League Baseball, much more is at stake for society as a whole.

Does anyone remember how congressional Democrats and media talking heads hauled President George W. Bush over the coals for giving a “campaign speech” as his 2004 State of the Union address?

Many of Bush’s thoughts “were vague to the point of meaninglessness,” The New York Times editorialized after watching Bush detail the efforts and successes of his administration’s domestic and foreign policies. Stephen Hess at the Brookings Institution said, “A lot of these programs almost sounded as if the president was going to be nanny in chief Ö You have to propose something.”

Like maybe something about steroid abuse in sports?

“The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message – that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character,” Bush said. “So tonight, I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now.”

That was more than a year ago.

Since then, the Department of Justice has opened a 42-count indictment against a San Francisco “nutritional supplements lab” for being an anabolic steroid gumball machine. Jose Canseco spent hundreds of pages in his new book glorifying the use of illicit drugs, bragging about bringing steroids into Major League Baseball, and revealing the widespread abuse of anabolic steroids among MLB players. Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Shane Mosley and Bill Romanowski, among others, have been sauteed by sports officials for their use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Now, we have the House Government Reform Committee showing that meathead Mark McGwire is half an equivocation away from being a brazen coward. The hearings also proved that half-wit Bud Selig is about as concerned about drug abuse as Jack Kerouac.

Could I be so bold as to say maybe Bush was onto something? For being harangued as an “idiot,” a “liar” and – laughably enough – a “terrorist” by the pseudointellectuals sprayed across academia, I’d say the president demonstrates a heck of a lot of prescience.

The simple, but apparently overlooked, point the president made during his 2004 State of the Union was that bad role models make for bad juvenile behavior. Perfect example: When McGwire first admitted to using the steroid precursor androstenedione, sales of legal, performance-enhancing steroid substitutes jumped by 1,000 percent.

So the message Congress wants to send MLB is simple enough: Shape up, or else. The problem is that this new national discussion of children makes for awful sound bites. As the government treads dangerously near to helping U.S. youth, talking heads are going apoplectic.

Fox News’ Sean Hannity decried the “grandstanding” of House Government Reform Committee members. Tragically, David Scott, a writer for Sports Illustrated for Kids, called the hearings a “dog and pony show.” Bill Kristol called the hearings “ludicrous” and, with razorlike specificity, “bad.”

The New York Times ran a 1,700-plus word column Friday by author Michael Chabon titled, “Jose Canseco, Hero.” The New York Times’ ideological “bizarro,” Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, wrote, “The ostensible reasons for the committee hearings are to educate the public on the dangers of steroid use and to protect American youth. Perhaps there is another reason, commonly described by a word that, as it happens, derives from baseball – grandstanding.”

I’d be fain to agree – if children weren’t popping “D-bol” pills like Pez candy. An alarming number of people under 30 aren’t at all alarmed by doping in professional sports – 41 percent, if a New York Times poll is to be believed. Steroid use has surged among 12th-, 10th-, and eighth graders since the mid-1990s. Fewer youngsters today see the harm in using performance-enhancing drugs than in past decades.

Parents ought to be furious. Wal-Mart ought to be selling Selig effigies by this point. But with the media caught in a stentorian harrumph about the “grandstanding” of elected officials who are finally doing their jobs, it still doesn’t look like the MLB will be under any real pressure in the near future to implement a real anti-doping policy.

Then again, the man who predicted this whole ruckus will be out of a job come 2008. How does Major League Baseball Commissioner Bush sound?

Darren Bernard welcomes comments at [email protected]