Fashion designer and entertainment entrepreneur Marc Ecko is the founder of Marc Ecko Enterprises. He blogs on fashion and pop culture at www.beingmarcecko.com.
When asked to comment on the steroids debate, I immediately thought, "What can I possibly say that hasn't already been said?" I've heard the debate chopped up from every angle imaginable. Baseball, for better or worse, has always been a mirror to American culture at large. The unapologetic metaphor for our glory days, as well as our pockmarks. Greater than the most celebrated works of Andy Warhol, baseball is 100 percent American Pop Culture. This is why, on Sept. 15, 2007, I bought Barry Bonds's 756th home run ball. I found the hoopla surrounding Bonds's record-shattering career and the debate over its validity to be a curious one, loaded with hypocrisy and rich with emotion. I then did something a bit nutty; I put the fate of the ball up to a vote at vote756.com.
Voters had three options. They could:
A.) Send it to the Baseball Hall of Fame as is.
B.) Send it to the Baseball Hall of Fame with an asterisk on it—or ...
C.) Put it on a rocket and launch it into orbit.
10,000,000-plus votes later, at the behest of 47 percent of the voters, the ball was stamped with an asterisk and sent to Cooperstown, where it is still on public display.
We live in economically trying times. When Lehman's crashed in September 2008, the last 25 years of back-patting false achievements came to a deafening stop. Funny how the mirror of baseball was right in front of us reflecting the signs of impending trouble. Just as Major League Baseball's credibility took a hit, our financial institutions have taken one as well. But, we are seeing far more than the failure of our heralded economic systems—we are actually witnessing the end of an era of sanctioned cultural cheating. We are a society hooked on performance-enhancing substances of all sorts, and the wear and tear have started to show. National debt. Funky derivatives that no one understands, but everyone buys. Credit cards. Leverage. Creative tax returns. Diets. Hedge funds. Rogaine. Text messaging. RSS feeds. Viagra. Caffeine. Booze. Adderall. DVRs. Illegal MP3s. That little extra "oomph" is just about everywhere for the taking. And we take it. We seek it out. And if "we" have not personally taken "it," we have certainly "looked the other way" when others have. I'm guilty of it. We are all guilty of it.
Once and for all, our culture, and the numerical stats that qualify our achievements—be it the Dow at 14,164.53 or Barry's final 762nd—have been put on notice. I tell my kids this all the time: "I write the rules in this house, and I control the consequences of your actions. But outside of this house, your actions are measured against the rules of others. I have no say over those rules. So don't come crying to me when you get in trouble in the real world."
Two years ago, when I first got mixed up in this debate, I felt then what I still feel now. It is not about Barry or the record. It's not about Manny, Roger, or Jose. Not A-Rod or the championship rings. It's about a system that rewards bad behavior and is complicit in its deception of the fans. It reminds me of that great courtroom scene in A F ew Good Men , when Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, is having it out with Lieutenant Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise.
Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled.
Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessup: You can't handle the truth!
Baseball had become an overly "lawyered" system of unions, rules, owners, and a commissioner who looks the other way. The steroids debate is an easy one. It has nothing to do with cynicism. Nothing to do with records or stats. Nothing to do with race. And nothing to do with the celebrity of the sport or the "fair" or "foul" treatment of players. It is a simple debate over what is right, and what is wrong. My 5-year-old boy, despite his competitive tendencies to want to outdo his peers or siblings, knows the difference. You don't cheat. It's a bad vibe. And that's why there is now an asterisk on that ball.