If you shine a spotlight anywhere in the country long enough these days, Sen. John McCain will eventually show up to stand in it.
He seems drawn to camera lights and can’t seem to resist the temptation to meddle in matters that don’t concern government.
McCain’s posturing is potentially significant, and even dangerous, given his chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee and status as a media darling. Anyone who doubts it need only look at the mess he made “reforming” the nation’s campaign finance laws.
The Arizona senator last week threatened to introduce a bill in Congress mandating a steroid testing program for professional baseball players if Major League Baseball didn’t do so by January. The threat followed confirmation of what had long been rumored — that home-run hitters Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi have used steroids. It’s all a lot less shocking than what it costs these days to attend a ball game. But McCain vowed to make a federal case of it.
“Major League Baseball and its players insist on turning a blind eye to the misconduct that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of their sport,” McCain said. So what? How and when and by what interpretation of the Constitution did it become Congress’ business to safeguard the legitimacy of a private, for-profit sports league? What national interest is thereby served?
The revelation about Bonds was the latest in a parade of reports about steroid-popping, blood-doping athletes who have peeled away whatever veneer of respectability remained in sport’s upper echelons. But this would only come as a shock to those who still believe most big league sports stars have any remaining claim to hero status, or can, or want to, serve as role models for kids.
A few pro athletes still deserve a place on that pedestal. Sports generally still plays a beneficial role in this society. But professional sports — and to a lesser degree, college sports — have been thoroughly corrupted.
Is it really McCain’s or Congress’ business to clean up sports? Clearly, Congress has better things to do with its time than meddle in the internal affairs of what are or should be private entities, whether Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL, NHL or even our own U.S. Olympic Committee.
Repeatedly in recent years, politicians have invited themselves into sports-related controversies, whether college football recruiting scandals or management at the USOC. But the federal government should have no role in any of it. We know, we know: USOC is a federally chartered organization. Well, it shouldn’t be.
Each of these entities, if they fail to do some self-policing, and uphold their reputations with the public, risk slumping profits and self-destruction. And it’s simply not the government’s responsibility to intervene, except when criminal charges are warranted.
Nurturing a national sports program based on its propaganda or prestige value seems a vestige of the Cold War, when sporting events, especially the Olympics, served as safer outlets for flexing nationalist muscles than the alternative. The Nazis saw sports as a means for parading Aryan supremacy on a world stage. The Soviets used sports similarly. “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” was a favorite boast repeated during the headiest days of the British Empire.
Do we Americans similarly associate sports with national identity and prestige? If so, it should give us pause. Americans can rightly take some pride in our prowess in sports. But America’s greatness rests on so much more.
Some might argue that the corruption of big league sports risks shredding the moral fabric of society by setting a bad example for our youth. Right … and the Easter Bunny’s real. If America’s moral fabric is held together by MLB or any other pro sports league, it’s already in tatters. Lou Gehrig is dead. The sports era he epitomized is gone. Members of Congress can’t bring them back. They have better things to do than try.