The suspension of thirteen Major League Baseball stars today is a sordid and layered story, to be sure. That the investigation has played out over the course of several years is just one indication of the many protagonists and antagonists (and a whole lot of money) in the mix. Simply put, it’s a mess.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why some athletes choose to cheat and others do not?

Sadly, dishonesty in professional sports is not a new phenomenon, especially in baseball. From spit balls to corked bats to stealing signs, ballplayers have tried to gain an advantage through devious means since the game’s inception. Cheating in baseball is simply a microcosm of society. As times change, so do the means by which people cheat. The evolution of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is just a modern-day manifestation of an age-old proclivity that we Christians call sin.

At the same time, most players operate within the rules of the game. Sure there are checks in place to discourage dishonesty, but by and large, despite the cynics who suggest otherwise, I believe the vast majority of athletes play fair.

Yet some, including the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez who was suspended through the 2014 season, seem to think rules don’t apply to them.

Why?

Well, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, the respected sportswriter George Vecsey suggested that A-Rod’s troubles stem all the way back to his childhood when he began to struggle with getting along with other people and always felt somewhat adrift:

The event that makes him so remote, so rudderless, took place when he was 9, when his father disappeared. This is not pop psychology to explain a man who blundered into the airplane propeller of adult reality. This is his own theory.

Back when he was a young major leaguer, Rodriguez would occasionally explain himself in terms of his missing father. His mother was strong and smart, and remains so to this day, but he expressed bewilderment that a father could just take off.

Vecsey continued:

“Dad left us when I was 9… He had been so good to me, actually spoiled me because I was the baby of the family,” Rodriguez told Finnigan (a Seattle sportwriter), adding: “I couldn’t understand what he had done. To this day, I still don’t really know how a man could do that to his family: turn his back… After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”

And the toll of such abandonment? According to George Vecsey, Rodriguez “missed the voice in childhood saying, ‘Alex, cut that out.’”

All too often society overlooks or underestimates the impact of fatherlessness, and by worldly standards, a man who is earning over 20 million a year is a success. Yet as the Yankees slugger ponders his future (he has appealed the suspension and will reportedly play until it’s resolved), would any objective person laud his current lot?

George Vecsey went on to point out that in contrast, Derek Jeter, a teammate of A-Rod’s, was raised by two loving parents who kept him on the right track, and still speak into his life today. “The family seems to have sent him a message,” he wrote, and it was this: “Derek, whatever you do, don’t be a jerk.”

My own father left us when I was five, so I can appreciate the pain that Alex Rodriguez appears to be carrying, even these many years later. Were it not for the grace and love of Jesus Christ, I’m not sure where I would be. But of course no circumstance, however tough, provides a person license to cheat or steal. My heart breaks for all the young people who find themselves facing a similar fate, who are yearning for a father figure, who just want someone to love them and guide them and yes, say, “Cut that out!”


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