It's tempting to take the Biogenesis scandal, pile it on top of all the others that have soiled the sports world over the past decade and conclude that we live in the tawdriest of times. Perhaps because that might be true.
Major League Baseball's latest attempt to rid itself of performance-enhancing drugs by dropping the hammer on 14 players for their alleged association with that notorious anti-aging clinic in Miami may temporarily restore our faith in the national pastime, but even a cursory survey of the greater sports landscape would seem to confirm that it's time for your kids to look elsewhere for their role models.
That's why it was so refreshing to hear Orioles star Nick Markakis take such an uncompromising position on the fate of baseball's steroid cheats in an interview with The Sun, and just as encouraging to hear Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Tuesday deliver a similarly strong statement in support of tougher PED testing in football.
"We don't really do any of that testing stuff for hGH and blood testing in the NFL," Flacco said, "but I'm definitely one of the guys that, you know, test me and the guys as many ways as you can to make sure there's nobody in the league that's on anything, because the last thing I want to be doing is having my guys, who I'm pretty sure are natural, going against guys that aren't. It just causes a lot of bad situations and it definitely puts a message out there that's not good for all the people around the country."
Flacco isn't a big self-promoter, but he obviously takes his responsibility as both a team leader and a public role model very seriously. He's also a relatively new father with another child on the way, which should make him even more sensitive to the message that misbehaving pro athletes are sending to our kids.
"That's why they're fighting so hard to get that stuff out of the game,'' Flacco said. "There are so many things that go into that. The biggest thing for us as players is, you don't want to be put in a situation where ... you feel like you have to do that to overcome guys who are doing that. It's bad for sports as a whole. You want to go out there and you want to play on an even playing field and you want the best to beat the best. And you don't want that stuff to have any part in that. And I'm sure the way it looks to kids out there with all those things, I'm sure it's not good."
This is not just a question of illegal performance enhancement. Baseball is hogging the bad headlines this week, but it's just one of the tainted games people play. New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez is in jail awaiting trial in the alleged execution-style slaying of an acquaintance, and dozens of other NFL players have been arrested for various offenses since the end of the 2012 season. Lance Armstrong has gone from being one of our greatest contemporary sports heroes to just another blood-doper on a bicycle. And it's not just an American tragedy.
International soccer has been similarly tarnished by a match-fixing scandal involving teams from all over the world.
Of course, no era has been free of scandal and no sport with an economic component has ever been immune to the bad acts of flawed humans. But it's hard to look back and find a time when so many have been disgraced on such a grand scale.
That is due in part to the fact that there are no secrets in the global village. There is nowhere to hide for long in a world where the Internet never sleeps and countless "old media" entities strain to fill a 24-hour news cycle. It's also due in part to the vulgar sums of money that are bestowed on our sports heroes, too many of whom are willing to take whatever ethical shortcut is necessary to get them.
But it's also fair to wonder if — as a society — we are simply getting the athletes and entertainers we deserve.
Charles Barkley warned us about this 20 years ago. He took a lot of heat for saying that he wasn't a role model and being able to dunk a basketball didn't qualify him to "raise your kids." Maybe we should have listened.
Now, we live in a world where surveys show a surprising percentage of young girls want to be like Kim Kardashian, who became a big celebrity — at least in small part — because of a notorious sex tape that became an internet sensation, while their mothers can't watch enough of the "Real Gold-Digging Housewives of Whereever There's A Rich Neighborhood."
Apparently, good role models are hard to find in any walk of life, so maybe it isn't entirely fair to single out any particular segment of society. But it's good to see some of our local heroes standing firmly for what is right.
There may be hope for the sports world yet.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.