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FIRST-PERSON: Steroids, trust & truth

GERMANTOWN, Md. (BP)–I was writing a story on Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts for a Christian publication when The Los Angeles Times broke the bombshell news in October 2006 that the fan favorite had been linked to steroids by a former teammate in a federal affidavit.

I tried several ways to reach Roberts, to no avail. But the team chaplain defended him.

“Brian is without stain and without blemish,” the chaplain told me. “He’s a man of great integrity, and he’s a great player.”

A day later, the federal prosecutor overseeing a steroid investigation into Jason Grimsley, Roberts’ former teammate, told the Arizona Republic that the Times’ story contained “significant inaccuracies.” And Grimsley’s own attorney said Grimsley did not identify Roberts as a steroid user in the affidavit. I breathed a sigh of relief. The smoke had cleared quickly. Or so it seemed.

Last week’s Mitchell report threw Roberts into the unwanted spotlight again. Former Sen. George J. Mitchell, hired by Major League Baseball to investigate the steroid controversy that has been simmering for the better part of a decade now, publicized his findings last Thursday in a massive document. Ninety-plus current and former players were implicated as steroid users, including Roberts. He was silent for four days until Monday night, when he issued a statement admitting he used steroids once in 2003.

My heart sank.

Over the last several years, I’ve done several articles on Roberts, including one for Baptist Press Sports last May. He has always come across as one of the most humble, genuine major leaguers I’ve ever spoken to. More importantly, he has a strong Christian testimony, an influential spiritual witness in the locker room and an altruistic heart.

All that, mixed with the skills he showed during his All-Star season in 2005, quickly made him my favorite player.

And now this. What to do with this information? Am I to believe Roberts when he says he only took steroids once? One dose certainly would not have given him a noticeable edge on the field.

But the issue goes much deeper than that. It’s about trust and truth. Baseball’s steroids controversy has thrown fans into a densely tangled jungle, and every situation like this is just another choking vine.

Other professing Christians have recently been linked to the scandal, too, including Indians pitcher Paul Byrd and Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte (both of whom claimed medical reasons for their usage). It’s discouraging and sobering, to say the least.

But regardless of the culpability of these players -– and the sense of betrayal we feel as fans -– there’s an important lesson to be learned. We all know how Romans 3:23 starts: “For all have sinned….”

Our hope, simply put, should not be in fallen man. Jeremiah 17:5 issues this warning: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” But verse 7 follows with this promise: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.”

If you’re a baseball lover, the steroids brouhaha feels like a sucker punch to the gut. It helps to take a step back and remember that this is just a game; it’s not life or death.

Still, examining the way we root for our favorite teams/players is a good way to put our heart under the microscope. Do we put too much stock in our athletic heroes? Do we make idols of seemingly larger-than-life figures who are merely sinners like us?

It is wise to recall Jeremiah’s words. In whom do we ultimately put our trust?
Joshua Cooley, a regular contributor to BPSports (www.BPSports.net), writes from his home in Germantown, Md.

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  • Joshua Cooley