Monday, January 11, 2010

Lessons for Fraternity From the Steroids Era

Well, Mark McGwire just admitted to taking steroids for much of his career. And in other news, infield grass is green.

His admission reminds us all that there was a dark period of baseball's history that will always be known as the Steroids Era. It was a time marked not only by the fact that several players juiced, but also by the fact that almost everyone stayed quiet about it.

There had to be players in the locker room who knew that their peers were injecting themselves with drugs. How can you miss something like that? There also had to be executives that heard whispers or knew firsthand that it was going on. Yet none had the courage to say anything, much less investigate.

Baseballs were flying out of the yard and we were loving it. Muscles were growing, heads were expanding, and the bleachers were full. And now, we can't trust a single thing that happened during that time.

For me, the Steroid Era was less about the presence of drugs and more about the absence of courage. The integrity of an entire institution was being jeopardized, and there was deafening silence.

Let's be honest - baseball is doing okay. The Steroids Era didn't kill the sport, but it was certainly damaged. The public trust with baseball is very feeble and fragile. Another strike or big scandal could cast a fatal blow. Football has surpassed baseball as America's pastime, and fans have been lost forever.

Are there lessons we can learn from the Steroids Era?

The first and easiest lesson is that you reap what you sow. McGwire and others like him enjoyed a short burst of fame, but are now loathed. The decisions we make in life - including our undergraduate years in the fraternity - have consequences on our character. Integrity is not replenished easily and those who lie or cheat live with it every day.

The second, and more difficult lesson, is that protecting sacred institutions sometimes requires blowing a whistle.

Years ago, we lived through the "Animal House" era. Our collective inability to confront and call attention to damaging behaviors left a void of trust with the public that we have yet to overcome. By the way, the movie Animal House was a reflection of the era, not the cause of it.

As an undergraduate, I thought that ignoring dangerous behavior was enough. I didn't participate in certain practices, and so I thought I was in the clear. I knew that we and other chapters were doing things that jeopardized the fraternity system, and my only response was to participate in the whispers and gossip.

The result of my indifference was that a few years later, my chapter stood on the brink. I won't say more out of respect to those working hard on its behalf today. My silence over 10 years ago hasn't made that work an easier.

I admire those who can slam their fist on the table, push back their chairs, stand and yell out "enough!" Because, I couldn't. Can you?

I learned much from my undergraduate years in the fraternity. The lesson that weighs heaviest is that willful ignorance is never bliss. In fact, it's the stuff of cowards.

2 comments:

  1. Oh, John! You nailed this one. How much different would fraternity/sorority communities across the country be if all of us who have chosen to continue to work with the fraternal movement after the undergraduate experience, whether it be paid or volunteer, had put our foot down more often or, as you say, simply had more courage?

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  2. Interesting correlation - You definitely did nail this one! The Steroids Era is definitely a great example of bystander behavior. Great thoughts - I think this resonates with a lot of students - and Alumni. I hope we can inspire more to find that courage.

    And thank you for making the distinction that Animal House was a reflection of the era, not the cause of it. :)

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