Cheating And Scandal Will Never Be the End of Sports
Last night I got home and read Mike's previous post, which led to the Deadspin article containing excerpts from a book written by disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy. It is indeed a fascinating read, and if it's true, then the NBA certainly has a scandal that I think is even worse than the steroid problem in the MLB.
This past year, I've heard a lot of sports radio talk centered around the steroids in baseball, and at around the time Manny Ramirez made it back to the Dodgers after his 50-game suspension, talk show hosts made note of the warm reception Dodgers fans gave him in that first game and said, "Fans are showing that they just don't care about this steroid mess."
Well, in some ways, this is true. I think the more accurate way to describe it is "people don't care enough about it to say goodbye to baseball."
I've been a baseball fan going on 25 years now. The very best baseball is played in the Major Leagues. College baseball is nearly unwatchable for me. When the steroid scandal hit, MLB dragged its feet for a very long time, finally getting around to suspending players. But the players are allowed back in, the records they may set are not officially tarnished (although baseball writers exact revenge on these numbers by not allowing these guys into the Hall of Fame), and there's no way of knowing whether they are all clean because drugs can be a step ahead of the testing. But for all that, I really have no choice on what MLB does. It's baseball. I love baseball. I will still watch.
It's the same for the lockout that happened 15 years ago. I thought, when a new labor agreement had to be reached a few years later, and there was talk of another lockout, that I might stop watching it if it were to happen. But then I realized, no, I wouldn't. The game I grew up watching and becoming my favorite sport for so many reasons had not changed.
There are a lot of things, I suppose, I wish I could stop enjoying so I could pursue more fruitful endeavors. I guess if I really tried, I could find a way to stop watching (or listening) and I wouldn't notice the void. But every time it's on, and it's either my team or a battle between two good teams, I can't help it. And if someone says they have tickets to the game and I'm not doing anything, I'll go. I think this is the case for many baseball fans, and why stadiums still fill up. It's the game they love...what other avenue is there to watch professionals play?
Sure, there are a few who can stop and do, but clearly it's not going to stop the majority, because they have no alternative. Saying baseball fans, or in the case of the revelations of Tim Donaghy, NBA fans, "don't care" is wrong. We care, we want it completely clean if possible, but in the meantime, the games are still the games we enjoy even if there's something cracked in them.
On the other hand, should officiating in sports become so awful that every game is being altered by horrible calls, you might see an exodus if nothing happens there. Officials can change the game in a meaningful way by interpreting the rules incorrectly or allowing things that are clearly wrong to stand. This is why the NBA scandal could be worse than the MLB steroid problem (although this postseason in the MLB is making me wonder if some umps are on the take). If people start going to games and think that their team is getting hosed because of officiating, and fans take a step further and think the refs are on the take, and there's a lot of evidence supporting this claim, then fans will turn on the sport.
Of course, when fans start turning on the sport, the league will probably make the necessary changes to try to win those fans back...until the next scandal hits.