The Mitchell Report. Ho-Hum.

In one of Seinfeld‘s final season episodes, Elaine learned that her on-again, off-again boyfriend David Puddy wears a fur coat. Even though in an earlier episode, the character of Elaine had angrily confronted a woman who wore fur, by the ninth season, her reaction had diluted to “eh, anti-fur. I mean, who has the energy anymore.”

Substitute “steroids” for “anti-fur” and you have my reaction to the Mitchell Report.

Senator George Mitchell spent two years and $20 million compiling the 409-page report. What the money and time was spent on I have no idea, as Sen. Mitchell could only secure interviews with two active players, proving that Sen. Mitchell could never get a job as a talent booker on Live with Regis and Kelly. In fact, it appears that most of Sen. Mitchell’s findings were courtesy of an interview with former New York Mets clubhouse employee Kirk Radomski. Couldn’t Sen. Mitchell have just taken Radomski out to lunch and saved about $19,999,975 dollars, even more if Radomski, like the aforementioned David Puddy, was a fan of Arby’s?

Once past the titillation of seeing Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte, and new Milwaukee Brewer Eric Gagne named as players alleged to have been doping up, what does the Mitchell Report leave us with? The findings that the use of steroids and HGH have been an ongoing reality in baseball, that the use of such performing enhancing substances is “wrong,” and that “the entire baseball community” has ignored the problem for a long time. Again, it took two years and $20 million to find this out? What mysteries of the world would Sen. Mitchell have uncovered if given another $20 million to spend? That eating fast food on a regular basis can make you overweight? That drinking excessively can make you act like a moron? That Hall was really the driving creative force behind Hall and Oates?

I’m not saying this is a good thing, but anyone over the age of four knows that performing enhancing drugs are a fact of life in virtually all professional sports and certainly not just baseball. And to a large extent we don’t care. The proliferation of sports talk shows, growing attendance figures, and solid TV ratings proves that. Major League Baseball and the National Football League, the two sports most dogged by reports of ongoing steroid and HGH use, are stronger than ever. In many ways, our indifference makes us all somewhat culpable for the rampant cheating “uncovered” by Sen. Mitchell.

So why don’t we care? Well, I think it boils down to two issues. One is the simple matter of when compared with crimes perpetrated by other athletes, the severity of doing steroids is lessened. Would you rather have your daughter date Andy Pettitte, who claims to have used HGH twice (before it was even banned by baseball) to help recover from an elbow injury, or Michael Vick, who admitted to putting dogs to death as part of a dogfighting operation that he bankrolled? Do reports of steroid use really make you as upset as reports of professional athletes involved in shoot-ups at strip clubs?

The second issue is that we’ve long since blurred the line between sports and entertainment. People by and large don’t really see much difference anymore between an athlete who juices and a musician or actor who relies on substances — legal or illegal — to perform. We giggle when a TV or movie star is arrested for being caught with the wrong thing at the wrong time, but would that alone stop most of us from going to a movie or watching a TV show that that person was involved in? No. So why should baseball fans be expected to respond to the Mitchell Report by not attending games or watching them on TV? They shouldn’t be, and they won’t. Any boos or heckling that Eric Gagne might face when he first takes the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers will quickly fade if he regains his 2002-2004 form. And those cheering for him will likely not let any lingering questions of whether he’s “clean” or not dampen their enthusiasm.

If the Mitchell Report helps to clean up baseball — and let’s not kid ourselves, no professional sport will ever be completely clean any more than any Kevin Trudeau book will ever be completely credible — then it will have at least been worth some of its gross expense. I certainly would prefer my favorite athletes to be more Lyle Overbay and less Lyle Alzado. But for now the Mitchell Report seems like the biggest waste of paper since Chuck Norris’s autobiography. And about half as significant.


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