(Jan. 27) The debate about whether (alleged) steroid users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame — answered again this week, barely, with a “no” — should catalyze a broader discussion of the importance of integrity.

For now, please allow just a few thoughts about, or against, some of the arguments frequently seen in recent days in those players’ favor. As a matter of normative ethics, the arguments are startlingly off-base.

For discussion’s sake, let’s assume the allegations against Bonds and Clemens are uncontested. Indeed, most of the public pleas in their favor actually do assume, based on rather convincing evidence (if not proof), that both players were substantial users of performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, the Bonds-Clemens supporters say their steroid use really shouldn’t matter.

The first common argument, that steroid use “wasn’t against baseball’s rules at the time,” is flat-out false. Baseball banned steroids in 1991. Equally importantly, Congress made nonprescription steroid use illegal in 1990. Baseball players who used PEDs were breaking both the rules and the law.

The second big argument is one of greater cultural concern. It’s the old “everybody else was doing it” excuse. (Never mind that the large majority of major leaguers almost certainly were not using PEDs, even if too many would-be superstars did.) Ethically, this is and always has been a bankrupt contention. The reason so many parents tell children that misbehavior isn’t all-right just because others are misbehaving is simple: It’s true.

Then there’s the contention that fellow players tacitly accepted steroid use and that somehow PED use was justified in order to achieve great results for one’s team. Balderdash. Curt Schilling produced one of the most superlative pitching records in baseball history, while Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas hit 630 and 521 home runs, respectively, all while publicly crusading against PED use and showing zero evidence of using. Their teams all made postseason runs, and Schilling’s teams famously won three World Series titles…. [The full column is at this link.]


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