Why did he do it? On August 5, New York Yankees superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez was suspended by Major League Baseball for 211 games for using PED’s: performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod, as he is called, is a three-time Most Valuable Player and is the highest paid player in baseball. Twelve other players were suspended as well, but because A-Rod has appealed the suspension, he’ll continue to play as the case winds its way through arbitration.
Rodriguez was suspended under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug and Prevention Treatment Program after the Miami New Times published a story in late January revealing his connection with Biogenesis in South Florida, an organization accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs to players. A-Rod admitted in 2009 that he used PED’s when he played with the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003. He was not suspended at the time, and Yankees fans forgave his mistake.
This time it’s different. Rodriguez, who is in the middle of a ten year, $275 million contract running through 2017, is digging in for a battle and made an interesting statement in a news conference on August 5: “I’m sure there’s been mistakes made along the way. We’re here now. I’m a human being. I’ve had two hip surgeries. I’ve had two knee surgeries. I’m fighting for my life.” Somehow, I find it difficult to understand how a superstar who is earning an average of $27.5 million a year is fighting for his life. Fighting for the rest of his money? Probably. Fighting for any semblance of integrity? Most assuredly.
Why did she do it? Last Tuesday night I was working in the living room while the MTV Music Video awards were on TV. Other than a deep sigh and a “Tsk, tsk,” I am normally immune to the depravity of much of what is on TV. I was shocked, however, at 20-year-old Miley Cyrus’ tasteless and sexually charged performance with Robin Thicke. After the show, Dan Islett, director of public policy for the watchdog group Parents Television Council, released a statement: “This much is absolutely clear: MTV marketed adults-only material to children while falsely manipulating the content rating to make parents think the content was safe for their children…” Interestingly, Cyrus’ father, singer/actor Billy Ray Cyrus, is on the PTC advisory board.
I am more sad than angry with these two superstars. Both A-Rod and Miley Cyrus evidently felt that it was advantageous to their careers to enhance their performance by respectively using banned drugs and inappropriate “twerking” in a nude-colored bikini. Clearly, they have chosen not to surround themselves with wise mentors.
Why do professional athletes cheat by taking PED’s, anyway? Perhaps they are tempted because success in athletics depends on a physical body that can perform better than anyone else. Athletes are always looking for that extra edge that will set them apart from the competition. If they’re injured, banned substances may help them to heal faster. If they’re getting older, PED’s may keep their bodies young. And the difference between a .250 and .350 batting average means millions of dollars.
In Cyrus’ case, her goal was to capture the world’s attention and enhance her ratings by embracing sexual exploitation through inappropriate clothing, lyrics, and dancing at a supposed family-friendly event. In fact, after the show Cyrus bragged about a positive Rolling Stones review by noting that she received 306,000 tweets per minute during her performance, more than the Super Bowl.
Alas, the human condition exempts no one, even us ordinary folks. Why do we do it? Because our inescapable reality is that each one of us dreams of being the best ever. We yearn to be idolized as the greatest of the greatest. In our worst moments, we are even willing to risk our reputations and careers by crossing the line and doing whatever it takes. And for a while we can get away with it. Home runs sell tickets. Shock value in entertainment catapults popularity. Cheating our way to the top reaps benefits … until others finally speak up and say, “Enough now.”
Cheating isn’t limited to sports, and borderline unethical behavior isn’t confined to the entertainment industry. Unwise decision-making takes place whenever we forget that the rules apply to us as well as everyone else. We step over the line whenever we confuse ourselves with God. When our goal is self-promotion, one-upping others, or glorifying our own gifts, we no longer value authenticity, honesty, and self-integration.
Even in the church we are tempted to fudge just a bit in order to enhance our “stats.” Have you ever heard of the “preacher’s count”? Why do some preachers insist that there are more people in worship than the ushers count? Why do preachers sometimes pass off the work of others as their own in sermons, word for word, without crediting the author and justifying it by claiming that there is nothing new under the sun anyway?
Why do church leaders find it acceptable to dip into restricted funds to pay current bills without informing the congregation: i.e. robbing Peter to pay Paul? Why do we deliberately inflate our membership rolls by not removing inactive members or those who no longer have a known address?
To be clear, I’m all for enhancing performance. I believe that we humans are far more capable and skilled than we think we are. We underestimate rather than overestimate our abilities. We reach our potential by setting high standards for ourselves and working hard and smart. By taking good care of the bodies, minds, and spirits that God has given us, each one of us can change the world. To perform beyond capacity is one of the greatest gifts we can offer back to God.
However, after years of futilely trying one thing after another to enhance my life, I’ve discovered a secret. The greatest PED I have ever experienced is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a performance-enhancing drug, it’s a power-enhancing dimension that is freely available to anyone who claims it.
This PED will tell us what to say when we are in trouble, and it is our conscience when we are tempted to believe that we are the greatest. This PED will not degrade, exploit, or harm oneself or others. Rather, the Holy Spirit convicts us, empowers us, encourages us, comforts us, teaches us to pray, renews us, releases our greatest gifts, speaks in, through, and for us, transforms us into the image of Christ, reveals the mystery of God, sets us free from bondage to ratings, success, and popularity, and unlocks the key to abundant life.
To Alex Rodriguez and Miley Cyrus: You are great performers, and your slip-ups do not have to define you for the rest of your life. So I humbly offer this suggestion. How about trying the real PED: the power-enhancing dimension of the Holy Spirit? After all, your talents are not your own. They were given to you as a gift to give glory to God and make this world a better place. The Holy Spirit: the real PED. It makes all the difference.