There is ample evidence showing that Americans take professional sports and the athletes in them quite seriously. Whether shelling out money, time or energy on their favorite team, sports fans invest much of their lives in supporting major league football, basketball, hockey and baseball. With the financial and emotional stakes being what they are, some - far too many - athletes succumb to pressure to perform at ever-higher levels. The result, as seen with this week's admission by Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez that he used steroids during his stint with the Texas Rangers, is a disappointment to fans and a cheapening of the game.
Rodriguez, who has three times been named Major League Baseball's most valuable player, is in his second year of a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees. He clearly has pressure to perform. Unfortunately, using performance-enhancing substances that are banned from the sport does little to infuse baseball with the sportsmanship it is supposed to demonstrate to its fans. Instead, it teaches fans - particularly those young people who are most likely to idolize top athletes - that cheating to win is OK. It is not.
Baseball's culture has changed since 2003 - the last season for which Rodriguez tested positive for banned substances - and there has been a league-wide tightening of steroid policies. That is good. It is nevertheless disappointing, though, to learn of an inspiring athlete's reliance on more than talent, skill and hard work.
In coming clean about his past indiscretions, Rodriguez did the right thing. But he let down millions in the process.