Public, fans greet Mitchell Report with shrug of indifference
CHICAGO -- When Cubs fan Mike O'Malley woke up Thursday, he was certain it would be the most significant day in baseball history since the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Hours later, after the Mitchell Report had disgraced dozens of players and laid bare the national pastime's drug problem, O'Malley was no longer so sure.
Nor did he really care.
"It's so old. It's such an old story, and it's been so drawn out," O'Malley said as he watched Thursday night's NFL game between Houston and Denver at Sports Corner, a bar across the street from Wrigley Field.
"At the end of the day, I'm kind of surprised I'm this indifferent."
He's not alone. From coast to coast, in cities home to both major leagues and bar leagues, the public's reaction to the Mitchell Report was largely a shrug of indifference.
Years of BALCO, Barry Bonds and Marion Jones have left fans numb to news that yet another player took a pharmaceutical short cut, and baseball's investigation didn't tell them anything most didn't already assume. Even the news that Roger Clemens was accused of spending part of his stellar career shooting up failed to generate much outrage.
"I really think, over the last decade, that we've been so inundated with athletes using performance-enhancing drugs that nobody is shocked by this report," said Eric Bronson, a sociology professor at Quinnipiac University who teaches "Sociology of Sport."
"You have to remember," Bronson added, "professional sports are more along the lines of entertainment than anything else right now. We're looking at sport as entertainment rather than sport as sport or competition."
Perhaps worst of all, they doubt if the report, no matter how embarrassing, will change anything.
"As long as so much money is on the line in professional sports, someone's always going to try and find a shortcut," said John Suwalski of Chicago.
It was impossible to avoid the Mitchell Report on Thursday. It was the lead story on both sports and news networks, and the report itself was downloaded 1.8 million times off MLB.com just in the first three hours after it was posted.
People were talking about it at sports bars and games throughout the country. It even caused a buzz at the women's volleyball Final Four at Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif.
But as baseball has seen for the last decade, knowing and caring are two very different things.
Baseball has been dogged by whispers and rumors about steroids for almost two decades now, with suspicions of performance-enhancing drug use rising right along with the number of home runs. Most assumed Bonds was doping long before he was indicted for lying to a federal grand jury about his steroid use, and any player who bulks up or puts up career numbers is automatically suspect.
Yet fans continue to flock to the ballparks in droves. Major League Baseball set a total attendance record for the fourth straight season this year, drawing 79.5 million people. Eight clubs set season records.
"Every week there's something else. Every day practically," said David Swanson of Denver. "Eventually, it goes in one ear and out the other."
On the Los Angeles Times' Web site, one reader wrote, "I could care less about fair play as long as these overpaid athletes entertain me." On The Commercial Appeal in Memphis' Web site, someone said, "No one cares about this story," while another wrote, "All these guys are cheaters."
"We talked a lot this year about doping and steroids. Students were pretty cynical, realistic about things," said Orin Starn, a professor at Duke University who teaches a course on the anthropology of sports. "They said 'Look, we love sports. We know people are doping, and we don't like it. But we'll still go out to games.'
"In a way, we're a nation of addicts. How many of us are on Prozac or taking our caffeine in the morning?" Starn added. "It's just a part of society that's come to find solutions through drugs. In that way, baseball players are no different than the rest of us."
After hearing about this player doing this and another doing that for so many years in so many sports, fans no longer can muster the energy to care. Whether it was Mark McGwire, Jones or now Clemens, fans have been disappointed by their heroes one too many times.
"Nobody plays without drugs," said Darren Schoenhofer of Fort Collins, Colo. "You are going for the edge. You'll do whatever it takes to play the game. They do it in football. They do it in baseball."
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who conducted the 20-month investigation, said he believes steroid use has lessened since baseball toughened its drug policy. But there are still improvements to be made. Among other things, Mitchell recommended baseball use an independent testing agency, and that there be unannounced, year-round testing.
Commissioner Bud Selig promised he would take action, but fans weren't nearly so optimistic. In a poll on the Web site of WCBS, the CBS affiliate in New York City, 70 percent said the Mitchell Report won't keep steroids out of baseball.
"There might be future restrictions," said Kirk Lombardi of Fort Collins, Colo. "I don't think anything will come of it."
After all, baseball has promised to clean up its act before. Athletes have sworn up and down that they're clean, that they would never resort to using performance-enhancing drugs to further their careers.
Yet there the country was Thursday, learning one dirty detail after another of All-Stars, MVPs and journeymen looking for a quick fix while everybody else in baseball looked the other way.
"As a baseball fan, I just want to get over it. I just want to move on," Suwalski said. "It's not going to change anything."
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Sacramento, Calif., and AP freelance writer Dale Bublitz in Fort Collins, Colo., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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