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Ryan Braun's Standing O

Is playing by the rules still important?

by James Leroy Wilson
April 1, 2014

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Ryan Braun's Standing O

Yesterday (March 31) on Baseball's Opening Day, Brewers fans gave their star player Ryan Braun a standing ovation even though he persistently lied to them about PED use before he got caught for the same and served a 60-game suspension last year.

It makes one wonder: do the fans care if the players play by the rules?

Braun disgraced himself in a way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens did not, in that the latter two didn't play in an era where PED use was specifically banned. His classlessness the first time he was caught (by which he was cleared on a technicality) made him perhaps the most unlikeable player west of A-Rod.

Yet his hometown fans cheered him.

I wonder if fans for other teams would do the same if their star players were caught cheating.

If they would, and I suspect they would if Brewers fans did, that tells me there might be a growing tolerance for cheating in sport. The thinking would go: there are rules, players take risks by breaking them, some get caught, but most do not. If fans think the cheating is rampant while those who get caught are few and random, they may tolerate their stars taking the risk.

They may reason, "I'd do the same to earn that huge salary." They may also be guilty of similar forms of cheating or dishonesty in their own careers or personal lives.

That's not to say they'd have no ethical boundaries at all, but that PED use is gray area if they think it's still rampant. When they see, for example, the aging David Ortiz's remarkable heroics in last year's World Series, they'd have reason to be suspicious that Ortiz is reaally "clean." But that Red Sox championship won't be taken off the record books even if Ortiz  is found out to have used PED's. A fan may think, why can't we do that with Ryan Braun? Maybe Braun was given credit by the fans for trying.

In the "cheating" spectrum in sport, on the one end are cornerbacks and offensive linemen who hold on many downs, knowing they won't get flagged very often. On the other end would be plans to, for instance, intentionally sabotage the other team, such as by deliberately inflicting serious injury on its best players. Such tactics, if exercised regularly, would destroy the sport.

Where does PED use fall in that spectrum?

I suspect it falls into an ethical comfort zone for more and more fans, and they may be right. PEDs didn't destroy the sport when they were legal, and apparently aren't destroying it when they are illegal. Fans won't mind if their players risk using them.

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