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Explaining the Baseball Steroid Scandal to Kids

A grand American summer tradition has just been doused with a massive bucket of cold water. Or rather, a massive dose of human-growth hormones and testosterone. Thirteen major league baseball players have been suspended for using illegal performance-enhancing drugs—including four players from teams that will most likely be headed to the playoffs.

While the entire situation is a huge disappointment for a third generation baseball fan; I'm an adult and understand this scourge has been going on for years. But I'm not sure what to tell my son and daughter about this mess.

Luckily—this time, anyway—no L.A. Dodgers were implicated. As a lifelong Dodgers fan, the exit of Alex Rodriguez does not really upset me in the least. Fans can (maybe) forgive if a dude is going to own it and be honest about the situation. Saying, "I cheated to be better and get a huge contract—and I got caught," would have been one way to handle the suspension. Instead A-Roid's arrogance makes him the worst offender of the bunch. But in this ongoing black mark on the sport, no club is left unscathed. Which is why, unfortunately, two years ago I did have to have "the talk" with my daughter. And it wasn't easy.

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When my daughter's favorite baseball player was caught in the same lie, it wasn't as black and white. In 2010 Manny Ramirez was no stranger to PEDs and controversy, and had just joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. While I wasn't a huge Manny fan, I'd always liked his ability to deliver and was frequently entertained by his unique brand of crazy. A common refrain among sportscasters to his odd behavior was, "It's Manny, being Manny."

We had just moved to L.A., and my daughter and I were watching Dodger games regularly. I wanted her to pick a favorite player so she could feel more connected to the game, and in doing so, embrace our family tradition of true blue Dodger fandom. Of course I tried to guide her toward the young and talented Matt Kemp, or the wiry Clayton Kershaw, but she would have none of it. The guy in right field with the long pants, cartoony dreads, and larger than life personality was the perfect character for a 5-year-old to latch onto, and she did. The Dodgers had a nice run in 2010, and kids throughout the city were wearing the fake Manny dreads they sold at Dodger stadium. And my daughter was hooked on watching baseball.

I just wish role models could actually remain on the pedestal instead of constantly being knocked down.

At the beginning of the 2011 season Manny was suspended 100 games for using the women's fertility hormone hCG (Manny being Manny?), and he chose to retire rather than keep playing. Which left me in the position to tell my daughter why her favorite player was now absent when we would watch Dodger games. I told her that Manny had cheated, and was punished. I told her that in life sometimes people cheat and lie, but that when they do, they get caught.

She was young enough at the time to brush it off, and move on—or so I thought. I asked her a few months later who her favorite baseball player was now that Manny was gone. She looked at me and asked, "Can I still like Manny, even though he doesn't play anymore?" I responded, "Sure sweetie, that would be fine." But I didn't mean it.

Manny was a grown man playing a kid's game for money. While I realize baseball is a distraction, I still hope she loves it as much as I do even with her hero leaving in disgrace. It's all in the mythology you make around the sport, and the comfort you find in it, and I don't want her to reject it at a young age if all of her favorite players wind up on the bench, or behind bars. It's an incredibly shameful time in baseball, and she won't have the benefit of growing up in a more innocent, golden age. Or at least a time when no one was getting caught under the influence. Her love for the game will face many obstacles that mine never did.

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In time she will learn about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Pete Rose and Barry Bonds. There have always been villains and heroes, on and off the field, and she will figure that all out; and hopefully understand that the when players cheat or lie, they get punished. So much of parenting is making sure your kid knows right from wrong, and is a moral and just person. My daughter knows that, and our flawed world is always providing teachable lessons to help reinforce. I just wish role models could actually remain on the pedestal instead of constantly being knocked down.

Now that my son is getting old enough to enjoy heading out to the ballpark, it's time for him to pick his favorite Dodger. While I don't think everyone is cheating, I'll still be crossing my fingers when he chooses his player. I just hope he picks one of the good ones.

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