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Christian players named in steroid scandal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell released his report Dec. 13, he identified 89 Major League Baseball players as users of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Included on that list are a few players who are professing Christians — most notably Andy Pettitte, Brian Roberts and Paul Byrd, among others.

That men of faith would be present in the Mitchell Report didn’t come as a surprise to Rick Horton, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and St. Louis area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Not only have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but they continue to do it after they have a relationship with Christ,” Horton said. “It’s a continuing battle.”

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Pettitte is a Sunday School teacher at his home church in Texas and is the author of “Strike Zone: Targeting a Life of Integrity & Purity,” published by B&H Publishing Group. After the release of the Mitchell Report, in which Pettitte was accused of using human growth hormone while recovering from an elbow injury, Pettitte admitted the accuracy of that charge.

Through his agent, Pettitte released a statement saying he tried HGH for two days in an attempt to recover from his injury more quickly.

“I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible,” Pettitte said in the statement. “For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone. Though it was not against baseball rules, I was not comfortable with what I was doing, so I stopped.”

He continued: “If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize.”

Likewise, Roberts admitted to using steroids one time in 2003.

“I immediately realized that this was not what I stood for or anything that I wanted to continue doing,” Roberts said in a statement. “I never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drugs prior to or since that single incident.

“I can honestly say before God, myself, my family and all of my fans, that steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs have never had any effect on what I have worked so hard to accomplish in the game of baseball,” he continued.

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Byrd, meanwhile, made headlines during the American League Championship Series in October when it was revealed that he had purchased HGH. But Byrd said he did so with a legitimate prescription from his doctor, because he had a deficiency of adult-growth hormone.

“I have a reputation, I speak at different places, I speak to kids, I speak to churches,” Byrd said in October. “I do not want the fans in Cleveland — I do not want honest, caring people — to think that I cheated, because I didn’t.

“That is very important to me.”

Those accused of using illegal substances fall into one of three categories, Horton explained. The first is the young player who thinks drugs might make him a better player. The second category is the injured player who use substances like HGH in an attempt to recover more quickly. The third group consists of aging players who are trying to hang on at the end of their careers.

“The motives are not so homogenous as to why guys are doing it,” Horton said. “I think that’s one thing we need to understand.”

Horton stressed that he’s not providing excuses for players who cheated, and was clear that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is “wrong and it’s illegal. But so is driving 85 in a 55, and I know people who do that,” he said.

“The sports world is so competitive and so short-lived, that there are decisions made within that that are hard for somebody not in that environment to understand,” Horton added.

Horton said that Christian players are easy targets for criticism because of their presence in the spotlight, and he said fans who look up to them as role models are naturally going to feel disappointed at these revelations. Some fans may even find it hard to be forgiving.

But Horton said sometimes people are guilty of holding others to a higher standard than they hold themselves. It’s important for people to realize, Horton said, that Christian baseball players are still men who sometimes stumble in their walk with Christ.

“It’s legitimate to say that I’m disappointed, but I do think we have to look in the mirror,” Horton said. “I think we need to have an attitude of forgiveness to brothers who make mistakes, and who make big mistakes.”

Horton also said that it helps to keep issues like steroid use in perspective.

“Is it really that horrible? Is that as bad as being prideful? Or disrespecting your neighbor?” Horton asked. “I don’t have an answer for that, but I think it’s worth thinking about.”
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Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations for Union University and editor of BP Sports.