In a steroid age, history may be kinder to A-Rod than you think
A-Rod and others have lowered the bar of what we expect from athletes
The A-Rod revelations have wiped away any last traces of innocence
Our children have grown up with fallen heros; A-Rod is just another
Now that we're all clear on the fact that some of Alex Rodriguez's accomplishments were achieved with chemical help, we can move on to the question of legacy, which has always been of great importance to the Yankees' star third baseman. Baseball, more than any other major sport, is a game built on history, and no player seems more concerned about his place in that history than Rodriguez. It is not just a matter of how A-Rod is judged today, or next month or even a year from now. It is a question of what future generations will think of him and his juiced-up brethren.
On that score there may be some good news for A-Rod and other offenders. It may be that they have so lowered the bar in terms of what we expect from athletes that future fans won't judge them all that harshly. Consider today's teenagers, who will be the ticket-buying fans and opinion makers of the next several decades. They have come of age in the steroid era. Most of them can't even remember a time when ballplayers were simply assumed to be clean. The story of the star who is discovered to be a juicer is so common to them that they may not consider it nearly as scandalous as older fans do.
The revelations about A-Rod may have wiped away whatever traces of innocence we had left. When Barry Bonds broke Henry Aaron's career home-run record, many fans looked to A-Rod as the player who might one day put things right, the all-natural slugger who would one day break the record the clean way. Now that we see how na´ve that hope was, who would ever be so trusting of any other player again? Is there a single athlete in any sport who we would feel shocked to discover was a user of performance-enhancing drugs?
When suspicion is the norm, no one can be surprised when guilt is discovered. The young sports fans I've come into contact with since the A-Rod news came out seem to view him not so much as a fallen hero but just another athlete who cheated to get an edge.
So perhaps the sad truth is we don't have to worry so much about what to tell the children when these so-called heroes are unmasked. They have grown up in an age of Bonds and Mark McGwire, of Marion Jones and Floyd Landis. They have seen once-certain Hall of Famers be denied access, and watched Olympic heroes and a Tour de France winner be stripped of their victories. They don't need to be told that athletes are far from perfect, that it's foolish to put their faith in any player's integrity, that when they witness any remarkable athletic achievement they should allow for the possibility that there is a syringe somewhere behind the scenes.
History may be kinder to A-Rod than we think. Instead of being stamped as a star who tainted his own reputation, he may one day be seen as just another member of the performance-enhancing era -- an era that given the constant advances in the science of drugs might be far from over. That pedestal on which we used to place athletes has long since been removed, but the silver lining for A-Rod is that it means he doesn't have as far to fall.