Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: How kids -- and adults -- can learn from the Melky Cabrera case

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

For days in the wake of Melky Cabrera's suspension for steroid use, the local and national media have spread the myth that we should continue to look for heroes in professional sports.

Anguished parents have called in to radio shows to ask what they should tell their kids about Cabrera, the "cheater."

One Bay Area paper carried a story about a 10-year-old boy, a big fan of the Giants left fielder, who went to AT&T Park to celebrate his birthday on Wednesday only to find that Cabrera had been suspended for 50 games. The All-Star Game's most valuable player had tested positive for using testosterone, a banned performance-enhancing drug.

The boy's father told the media that his son was crushed by the news. It was a betrayal of innocence that goes a long way back in American history.

"Say it ain't so, Joe," is a phrase that a wounded child supposedly spoke to "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, a baseball star implicated in a scandal to purposely throw the 1919 World Series for the benefit of gamblers.

That was nearly a century ago and with all due respect, you'd think we would know better by now.

After years of covering professional sports, I'm of the opinion that our kids struggle with fallen sports heroes because their parents struggle with them, too – as if they were the kids.

I can't tell you how many times I've been stopped by adults who not only want to know about the athletes – they need to hear that they are "good guys."

Cabrera's story popped that fantasy. It jumped from the sports page to the front page because it mocked the notion that doping was a thing of baseball's past. It's a reminder of how pervasive chemical cheating remains in multibillion-dollar sports enterprises.

It also has spawned curious ethical contortions among Giants fans who were livid that Cabrera had broken the rules after looking the other way for years as the body – and the body of work – of Barry Bonds grew unnaturally.

On Twitter, one gentleman told me that Bonds, the ex-Giant left fielder and baseball's all-time home run leader, "didn't break any rules," but Cabrera did.

I don't even know where to start with such a statement. Bonds may have never flunked a steroid test, but he admitted to using the stuff, albeit unwittingly.

The government didn't buy Bonds' professed ignorance and prosecuted him. They might have nailed him, except that his personal trainer – the man who the feds believed had direct knowledge of Bonds' steroid use – refused to testify and lost a year of his life in jail while remaining silent.

While Giants fans largely hail from some of the most affluent and educated counties in America, they can still suspend a logical disbelief in Bonds' version of events.

Consequently, it seems people are mad at Cabrera, not so much because he cheated, but because he got caught and because he will miss the remainder of the season when the Giants need him most as they push for another World Series ring.

Yeah, it would be tough admitting those feelings to a kid because they don't make adults look very good.

But you can tell a kid there is nothing wrong with admiring how Cabrera hit or played left field with verve and flair.

His case simply proves that everyone – even elite athletes – makes mistakes.

To his credit, Cabrera immediately fessed up to what he had done, in contrast to many big-league players who have lied or told half-truths after getting busted.

That counts for something, and so does teaching a child the important difference between admiring an athlete and idolizing one.

Cabrera's case illustrates that even rich baseball stars are subject to rules and pay a price for breaking them.

A 50-game suspension without pay is a major financial hit. Even worse for Cabrera, he has depressed his worth as a player to the point where he will surely lose millions on the free-agent market this winter.

You know what? Kids benefit when they learn there are consequences to cheating.

Cabrera's case also raises important issues such as compassion and forgiveness.

He made a mistake. He said he was sorry. People deserve second chances.

Meanwhile, Cabrera's teammates are not quitting. They are going to deal with adversity and fight on.

Isn't that what we hope our kids will do? Don't we want them to do their best, even when things go against them?

Kids can handle all this and much more. But in the sad case of Melky Cabrera, it appears to be the sports-worshipping adults who need a hug.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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