Should Manny Play?

Published: June 10, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Manny Ramirez is gone, suspended for 50 regular season games, but should he be allowed to play in this year’s All-Star Game?

Ramirez’s suspension ends July 3. The All-Star Game is played on July 14th. Legally, Ramirez is eligible to play.

Ethically?

New York Times ethicist, Randy Cohen writes “There are potent arguments against the use of these substances [steroids], invoking respect for the law, esteem for baseball’s history, regard for the players’ health and concern about poor role models for young fans. But to frame this problem as one of individual moral failure is neither persuasive nor apt to yield an effective solution.

“Sports evolve, and technology plays its part,” Cohen says. “In modern, professional basketball… footwear [is] so high-tech that James Naismith, the game’s inventor, would barely recognize those things on LeBron James’s feet as shoes.”

True, Randy, but all players have access to the same high-tech shoes as long as they comply with league standards. It’s the same with baseball shoes, bats, balls, gloves, etc.

“It is difficult,” Cohen continues, “to see a profound moral distinction between pharmaceutical science and other equally sophisticated technologies that yield even more significant improvements.

“In some sports, the most advanced approaches to training and diet apply biological research and computer analysis. As a consequence, Roger Bannister’s record in breaking the four-minute mile is now Hicham El Guerrouj’s 3:43 mile… More extreme still is Tiger Woods’s Lasik surgery, a deliberate and successful attempt to improve his vision to 20/15 — better than normal — a change he himself says has improved his game. If laser surgery, why not steroids?”

I have no doubt that Roger Bannister availed himself of the best diet and training techniques of his day, but he still made the personal commitment, not to mention putting in substantial hard work to reach his best. If Tiger Woods uses Lasik surgery to improve his eyesight and it’s okay with the PGA, great. By all accounts, Woods still puts in the time and hard work to get where he’s at.

Steroids are a different matter.

While Lasik surgery does carry some risks, the health risks associated with muscle-producing steroids are considerable. According to Hazelden, the drug and alcohol treatment center, long-term steroid use decreases HDL (good) cholesterol, increases LDL (bad) cholesterol, and can cause jaundice, high blood pressure, kidney tumors, liver tumors and cancer.

“In adolescents, steroid abuse can trick the body into ‘thinking’ that it has completed puberty. As a result, bones stop developing. If teenagers take steroids before their adolescent growth spurt, they may stay at a reduced height for the rest of their lives.

“Steroid effects reach into the realm of thought and mood as well. Abusers sometimes report that they feel invincible. But that emotional high can swing to paranoia, irritability, depression, impaired judgment, and manic behavior that turns violent.”

Clearly, this is not the kind of message anyone wants kids to pick up. And, like it or not, athletes role model behavior for kids. Further, because steroids are banned, it’s also cheating and the message that sends is simpler: do whatever is necessary to win.

So here’s my solution to the question of whether Manny Ramirez should play in the All-Star Game. Yes, he should be permitted to play. He’s served his time in the box and the rules allow for his return to the game including the All-Star Game.

Now, here’s what I think Manny could do.

On Friday, July 3rd, Manny Ramirez rejoins the Dodgers. However, in a scheduled press conference before the game, Ramirez makes the following statement:

“I am grateful for the generous support baseball fans have shown me over the years, and greatly appreciate their votes to play in this year’s All-Star Game. However, this year I will step aside in favor of a more deserving player who has not only earned the respect and admiration of fans, but has, through his behavior, demonstrated the best traits of a professional baseball player.”

Now wouldn’t that be a great message to send us all?

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