The Media’s Effect on Professional Athletes
This is mainly about how the media effects athletes that use steroids. Most of it is about baseball, but there is also some track and field in here.
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There are some professional athletes who put themselves before the rules of their sport or even, above the law. The media exposes the dark side of professional athletics, but they also leave the public wondering whether or not there should be a limit to their madness. Some athletes realize that they are making mistakes, admit them, and then try to correct them. However, there are also athletes that do not care to correct mistakes and constantly lie about them. Either way, the media is there to feast on any rule infraction. The media has helped to destroy the careers of several professional athletes. The media feeds on the misjudgment of these athletes and seems to transfer the greatness of an athlete to themselves. The media can effect the public’s perception of professional athletes.
Jose Canseco was a professional baseball player at one point, for the Texas Rangers and was known for his powerful bat. He has admitted to steroid use and claimed that he was not the only one that used them. Although he admitted to steroid use, the media made him out to be a hero, which was quite ironic. The media influenced the public as well, simply by talking about the athletes that Canseco has accused of using steroids. They never hesitated to believe every word that flew out of Canseco’s mouth whether it was true or false. According to S.L. Price, “Canseco’s book, published last February, alleged that he had injected McGwire and Palmeiro and others with steroids and expressed suspicions about yet other stars, such as Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada and Houston Astros ace Roger Clemens” (Price 3). Most of these accusations have not been proven, but there is a considerable amount of evidence that Canseco was telling the truth. McGwire refused to talk about the past during the Congressional Hearing and Palmeiro tested positive for steroids not long after the hearing was over. This proves that Canseco’s accusations may all be true. According to S.L. Price, “Canseco, who in his book claimed steroids would soon be used by all top athletes, "and that’s good news," tried to remake himself as an antisteroids crusader” (Price 4). This shows that Canseco may not deserve as much positive media coverage as he is receiving. At first he believed steroids were a good thing for professional athletics, but then he realized that they may not be as good as he thought for baseball. Fifty year old records would be broken and tarnished by a steroid user. The earned run average of pitchers would increase by two runs because someone decided to put himself above the game. Canseco may or may not have realized those issues, but he realized that he could become a hero if he exposed the steroid issue to the media. S.L. Price stated, “Canseco may well help end the Steroids Era, but he also helped start it, and if he told the truth now, he also lied then” (Price 6). Obviously Canseco was not the cleanest baseball player in his day, but apparently the media believes he is honest today.
Perhaps the most prolific baseball player in the steroid controversy is Barry Bonds. He has passed Babe Ruth for second on the all time home run list; he is one of three players to hit over seven hundred home runs. Bonds holds the record for the most home runs in a single season. He also holds every intentional walks record in the record book showing what a feared hitter he had turned into. However, despite these achievements, the media and the public hate him. He has never respected the media, but the media treated him with much more respect eight years ago than they do today. According to Greta Van Susteren, “Superstar Barry Bonds admits he used substances from a trainer busted by the feds in a steroid ring… Barry Bonds’s lawyer says that Barry didn’t know that it was steroids” (Van Susteren 1-2). As Van Susteren stated, Bonds admitted to using steroids, but unlike Canseco, he said that he did not know that they were steroids. The media did not believe Bonds and continued to bring him down. Bonds could have said that he took steroids and he knew that he had taken them, then perhaps if he had said that, the media would have stopped questioning him after a short period of time. The evidence that Bonds has done steroids is insurmountable. According to Richard Justice, “In 1998, he hit 37 home runs and drove in 122 runs. In other words, he had his usual season… Eight players hit more home runs than Bonds that season. He quickly re-established himself as baseball’s best player at an age when many players are in decline. From 2000 to 2004, he averaged 52 home runs a season” (Justice 1-2). Bonds averaged fifteen more home runs in four years than he did for the rest of his career in at and age where the climax of his career should have been long gone. His body size had also increased rapidly in a short period of time. Both of these things can result from steroid use. Richard Justice also says, “According to the brilliant book Game of Shadows by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Bonds was furious he’d been left in McGwire and Sosa’s wake. He believed steroids had helped McGwire, if not Sosa. He wanted to get some of what they had” (Justice 1-2). Game of Shadows says that Bonds was jealous of McGwire and Sosa, as a result he resorted to steroids. The media disrespects Bonds not only for his mistreatment of the press, but also his use of steroids. They try to make the public hate him, if the media did not exist, few would know that Barry Bonds admitted to taking steroids, and most would be left wondering.
Mark McGwire was, according to S.L. Price, “…once baseball’s Paul Bunyan…” (Price 2). He had set the single season home run record in 1998, becoming the first player to hit seventy home runs in a single season. The media considered treated him like he was baseball’s king and his record was celebrated without questioning whether or not he had done steroids. At the time, few had heard of steroids being used in professional sports, but nobody suspected Mark McGwire of steroid use after he had broken the record. At baseball’s Congressional hearing, the accusations of McGwire using steroids appeared to be true. According to Dave Kindred, “If only one guy had the guts to say, "Yeah, I took steroids. Didn’t everybody?" It would have been great if Mark McGwire had said it… The mewling McGwire said, "I’m not talking about the past” (Kindred 1-2). McGwire’s refusal to talk about the past showed a fear of being under fire form the media if he had admitted to steroid use. However, he did not realize that his refusal to talk about the past had made the public frown at him and the media change their mind about his perception. Dave Kindred said, “He would be a Martyred Hero praised for letting in the disinfectant of sunlight on baseball’s seeping wound. Instead, McGwire treated Congress as if it were a pack of sportswriters unworthy of his august presence” (Kindred 2). Mistreating the media is one of the reasons why McGwire is no longer a sports idol and a reason why he is considered a “dirty” player. He does not receive much positive media attention anymore because of the possibility that he used steroids, but the media magnifies the public opinion and may convert some people on to their side.
Sammy Sosa had an epic battle with Mark McGwire in 1998 for the single season home run record. McGwire won the battle hitting seventy, but Sosa still managed to put sixty six baseballs into the stands. Both players broke the previous record. Sosa was from the Dominican Republic and played for the beloved Chicago Cubs during that season. Then in 2005, Sosa was traded to the Baltimore Orioles where he could have been one of the few players in the history of the game to hit six hundred home runs. According to David Ginsburg, “He began the season needing 26 homers to become only the fifth player to hit 600. He ended up batting .221 with 14 home runs…” (Ginsburg 2-3). This was Sosa’s first sign of steroid use, but it was not his first issue on the playing field. There was a time when Sosa broke his baseball bat and the umpire decided to examine the bat. He discovered that Sosa’s bat was corked, which made the bat lighter and much easier to hit a home run. When the press asked him about it, he shrugged like it was not a large issue, and said that he had grabbed the wrong bat. When he attended the Congressional Hearing on steroids, he had suddenly forgotten how to speak English, or at least he made it look that way. According to S.L. Price, “The Orioles outfielder and native of the Dominican Republic , citing language difficulties, had a lawyer read his opening statement and kept a translator by his side throughout the day. She never got a word in” (Price 3). Sosa obviously spoke English fairly well if his translator did not get a word in, but having the translator there made him seem more suspicious. Price also said, “Asked if he supported baseball’s policy on steroids, Sosa said, "I don’t have the specific question to explain to you" (Price 3). Sosa made it appear that he did not understand the question and refused to answer questions about steroids directly. The media capitalized on the opportunity to explain this to the public and make them feel that Sosa had taken steroids. There is strong evidence that Sosa took steroids, but once again, the public may not have realized this without the media attention that he has received.
Sammy Sosa’s former teammate, Rafael Palmeiro was also one of those players that appeared to be heading straight for the Hall of Fame. He was approaching his three thousandth hit and had already reached five hundred career home runs. Palmeiro was always portrayed as a “clean” baseball player that had built up his muscles because his father would not allow him to watch television without squeezing a stress ball. The media felt that he was an honest ballplayer and displayed him to the public as they had thought he should have been. At baseball’s Congressional Hearing he appeared to be the most honest of everyone there. Then as Jeff Passan said, “…he uttered the words that would wreck his career… "I have never used steroids. Period," Palmeiro said. "I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that. Ever"…Aug. 1… baseball announced Palmeiro had been suspended for taking steroids” (Passan 1-2). This was clearly a low blow to Palmeiro, the media quickly took advantage of his statement at the hearing and made him look like a downright liar. They constantly replayed the statement on television, then explained to the public that he had tested positive for steroids. That was the end of Palmeiro’s career. His three thousandth hit meant nothing; his five hundred plus home runs meant nothing. The worst thing was that he had to start wearing ear plugs to the baseball field in order to drown out the fans’ disapproval. He still denied steroid use after testing positive, but the press just threw it in his face and watched him go down with the others.
Another sport that has endured a steroid era is track and field. One of the most prolific male athletes and one of the most prolific female athletes were accused of steroid use. Tim Montgomery once set the world record for the men’s 100 meter dash. It has since been broken first by Asafa Powell, then Powell’s record was tied by Justin Gatlin. Track and Field is not really a sport that is covered by the media often, but Montgomery was perhaps, one of the most closely pursued athletes. He received positive attention from the press and they felt that he deserved the attention because he broke a great record. Then according to Phillip Hersh, “The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Tuesday that Montgomery and fellow U.S. sprinter Chryste Gaines, a 1996 Olympic relay gold medalist, were guilty of doping based on evidence other than analytical positive tests” (Hersh 1). Montgomery admitted the use of steroids to a grand jury, which was supposed to remain private and the media has not been too hard on him, but perhaps they were trying to send him to the sewers that way. As Phillip Hersh states, “… Montgomery ’s sanctions include loss of all results, records and winnings from March 31, 2001, through June 6, 2005. Those include gold and silver medals at the 2001 world championships and the 100-meter world record he set in September 2002” (Hersh 3). Perhaps, the media feels that Montgomery will be forgotten.
There was a time when Marion Jones was Tim Montgomery’s girlfriend. There was a time when she had planned to win five gold medals, but instead came away with three along with a silver and a bronze, then expressed disappointment. Now she wishes that the media would stop questioning her about steroids. She has constantly denied taking steroids, but as Mark Starr states, “Despite Jones’s pro-active defense, she can be oblivious to public perception…” (Starr 2-3). This is partially a result of the media’s constant nagging about Jones using steroids. Starr says, “Today Jones has all the recognition she ever dreamed about; now she desires almost none of it. She has become the public face of U.S. Olympic sports’ biggest drug scandal ever–despite no conclusive proof of any wrongdoing…” (Starr 2). The media did not accuse Marion Jones of using steroids, but they constantly remind the public that she has been accused of steroid use. Marion Jones has received negative media attention and may not have deserved any of it.
There were also gambling scandals that brought about negative media attention towards professional athletes such as the case of baseball player Pete Rose and the case of hockey player Wayne Gretzky. Rose admitted to betting on baseball, but it took him several years to do so. Rose expressed his feelings of the negative attention to reporters by saying, “I feel like a piece of fresh meat” (Neff 1). Rose was banned for life from baseball and denied entry to the Hall of Fame. His off field incident prevented him from being remembered as the career hits leader that he is. The media frowns upon him about lying for over ten years, but he never took steroids like Jose Canseco who has been praised for exposing baseball’s fans to the darkest truths of the sport.
Wayne Gretzky is nearly undisputedly the greatest hockey player to ever play in the National Hockey League. Then he became mixed up in a gambling case that involved his wife, Janet Jones, betting on sports. According to Michael Farber, “Jones, who has not been charged, released a statement in which she said nothing about her own gambling habits but maintained that she never bet on her husband’s behalf” (Farber 2). Gretzky had claimed that he did not know anything about his wife’s gambling habits and she reported it in the same manner. Farber also states, “…Police have said Wayne Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones (left), bet through Toccchet. Placing an individual wager isn’t a crime in New Jersey, but Tocchet, Harney and Ulmer face charges of money laundering, conspiracy and promoting gambling, and up to 20 years in prison” (Farber 4). Apparently Gretzky ended up on the wrong side of a gambling scandal that took place in the National Hockey League. However, the media still looks at him as if he is guilty of something. As with the case of Marion Jones, Gretzky was accused of something he may not have done, when the only evidence was association.
The media is like a catalyst, they speed up the rate at which an athlete receives public attention. They may base their accusations on false information or on facts, but they will always be there to give their opinion on the subject. Reporters can be persuasive; they can influence the public to love or hate someone that actually deserves the opposite. The press can help to destroy the careers of great athletes if the athlete makes a single comment. The media uses whatever sources are available to them to praise the athletes they love and rip the athletes they hate. If an athlete mistreats the media, the athlete can expect the media to shoot back at them with twice as many bullets. Therefore, the media effects the public’s perception of an athlete.
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