Baseball’s legion of fans and business partners were still coming to grips on Friday with evidence that a generation of the sport’s greatest stars were chemically enhanced frauds.
The issue was so important that President George W. Bush addressed it during a news conference that also touched on such other pressing matters as US energy policy and North Korea’s military intentions.
“Steroids have sullied the game,” said Mr Bush, an avid fan who was once a part-owner of the Texas Rangers. “My hope is that this report is a part of putting the steroid era of baseball behind us.”
He was responding to the findings of a report made public on Thursday by former senator George Mitchell that tied 89 Major League Baseball players to steroids and illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Baseball has been trailed by suspicions of drug abuse in recent years as long-standing home run records were shattered. Prominent players, such as batters Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, were implicated in steroid investigations.
Yet the Mitchell report still managed to shock because it named legends – most notably, pitcher Roger Clemens – and included hundreds of pages of lurid details of locker-room injections and cashed cheques.
The report landed at a time when the business of baseball is thriving. The league expects to top $6bn (€4bn, £2.9bn) in revenue this year, up from $1.2bn in 1992. Attendance has set records in each of the past four years. Sports, in general, have become ever more valuable to television networks and advertisers because the live nature of the events makes them largely immune to digital video recorders, which allow viewers to skip commercials.
Several sports and media executives argued that the scandal, while embarrassing, would not damage television contracts or sponsorship deals with companies such as GM. “Time and again there are scandals in professional sports and it never has an impact,” one executive said.
ESPN, the Disney-owned sports network, said: “Major League Baseball fans are extremely passionate and we do not feel the report will change that. We look forward to our continuing partnership with Major League Baseball in serving its fans.”
However, the scandal could harm the reputation and commercial prospects of individual players. Mr Clemens, who appeared to defy age by pitching into his 40s, has recently appeared in endorsements for AT&T’s wireless service. He denied the report’s allegations.
“This is always the risk you run when you use celebrities,” one advertising executive said, noting Nike’s embarrassment after Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, one of the sportswear-makers top endorsers, was jailed for financing and participating in dog fights.
Another possible effect of the scandal is that it could inflame baseball’s labour relations. The league owners and players’ union have cast aside their troubled history to live in relative peace in recent years but relations could sour if the players object to testing regimes proposed by the owners.
Several players were angered that Mr Mitchell opted to disclose names in his report even though the evidence was based on limited sources.
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