FOR THE WEEK OF MAY 29, 2006
Baseball copes with Barry Bonds and the stigma of steroids
Newspaper sports page cover the baseball steroid scandal from a number of different angles. So far there are at least three major dimensions to the story -- legal, medical and moral (cheating). Have students read the details and discuss whether to use an asterisk to mark the records of the players found to have used steroids. Are all home runs the same? Or does it matter how a player trains before he steps up to the plate? Discuss fair play and character. Examine the health issues associated with taking steroids.
Beyond steroids, drug use is widespread in American society. Illegal drugs -- and the abuse of legal compounds -- show up in news stories on crime, medicine, family life, public policy and other topics. Have students look for stories on how drugs affect society. Are any new laws or public policy shifts needed?
Besides baseball's internal investigation into steroid use, the matter has come up before Congress and is being pursued by prosecutors. Have students look up the issues raised by lawmakers and law enforcement officials. Are their concerns justified, given that baseball is mostly entertainment? Is there a legitimate public policy issue here? Or are officials over-reacting to a few high-profile players in a high-profile sport?
Chasing down and topping a fabled sports milestone should be a time of thrills and anticipation. But baseball star Barry Bonds found the going tough this spring as he closed in on Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755) on the career home run list.
Critics accuse Bonds of using steroids, substances that enhance performance. Newspaper sports pages crackle with the controversy, with fans lined up for and against Bonds.
The San Francisco slugger is not the only baseball star suspected of using steroids. But he's got the most attention as he closed in on Ruth and Aaron's high-profile home run records.
Some pundits want Bonds' baseball achievements to include an asterisk to indicate he cheated -- as opposed to swat king Aaron, who got the record with determination and training.
However, Bonds denies knowingly using steroids. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the slugger told investigators that a trainer gave him creams for ailments. But Bonds believed them to be legal substances, flaxseed oil and a balm for arthritis, he said.
Why do people care? For one thing, trafficking in steroids is a now crime. It mars baseball. Secondly, baseball fans take their sport seriously. Comparing player statistics over many decades is an integral part of the game, a source of endless debate and banter among fans. Babe Ruth, for example, made his mark in the 1920s and 1930s. And his home run record held for years until broken by Aaron in 1974.
Response from baseball officials: Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell has been named to investigate steroid use by baseball players. But even that is controversial. Mitchell recently asked certain players for medical and telephone records -- a move that drew a slap from the players' union. Mitchell's request is outside the scope of his authority, union leaders said.
Behind the scenes: Before 2002, major league baseball had no steroid policy. Some sports writers accuse team owners of looking the other way as the steroid scandal developed over several years. The big hitters helped sell tickets in a sport that had lost luster to other sports including basketball, football and auto racing, the theories concluded.
What do polls show? Bonds plays for the San Francisco Giants, and a poll shows California residents are split on the matter. Some 58 percent believe Bonds took steroids to make his run on Aaron's record. Among baseball fans, the number jumps to 68 percent.
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