Saturday, February 11, 2012

Falling Off the Wagon

Josh Hamilton is a Major League Baseball player; a former American League Most Valuable Player, a four-time all-star, former batting and RBI champion, and MVP in the playoffs. He hits for average, power, steals bases, and plays the outfield with wild abandon – often crashing into walls while chasing fly balls. He is the kind of player that every fan wants on his or her team; the kind of player that every Major League team wants on their side. He is a game changer – a man who plays at the highest level of the National Pastime.

He also has a drug and alcohol problem.

Hamilton was once suspended from MLB for three years for drug and alcohol use. He has written a book documenting his problems, and has spoken openly and frequently about his addiction. He has ‘fallen off the wagon’ at least twice in the past few years, including an incident that took place last week.

What does a team do with a player like that? What should happen to a professional athlete who is an addict? Athletes who use illicit drugs are usually suspended, but Hamilton’s recent problem does not involve illicit drugs – it’s all about alcohol.

His suspension beginning in 2004 was the result of drug and alcohol use, but since his return to baseball, Hamilton is tested for illegal drugs at least three times each week. There is no doubt that anyone proven to have used PED or recreational drugs should face consequences. It isn’t the drugs that were Hamilton’s downfall though in the well-publicized incident in 2009 or the most recent in 2012 – it was the booze.

It may not be illegal to be an alcoholic, but it can be unseemly – especially for someone such as Hamilton, who is in a high-profile profession. While alcoholism is an embarrassment for Hamilton, and for the Rangers, this is a personal problem. We are always hearing that athletes are role models, but that is just so much bunk. Yes, kids emulate athletes such as Josh Hamilton, but it is the kids’ parent’s responsibility to teach their children to not to follow such behavior.

It is not Josh Hamilton’s responsibility to put on a show for the world or beg forgiveness. It is not his job to teach morality or right and wrong to fans. Hamilton has an addiction and he deals with it in the manner that seems best to him and his family. Alcoholism is a disease. Yes, it is part mental, but physical dependency is a disease just as any other serious illness. And just as with other diseases, treatments don’t always work.

Although Hamilton’s most recent relapse did not ignite a public outcry, Hamilton came forward of his own accord and publicly apologized. That is a nice touch, but he doesn’t have to explain this to anyone other than himself and his family. This is a problem that he needs to deal with privately, and his family and his employer should do what they can to assist him.

The problem with his employer though is that Hamilton will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, and obviously the Rangers would like to keep this star player in their own outfield. Sports teams, however, are reluctant to give long-term contracts to players who have drug and/or alcohol problems, as they cannot know for sure what effect the addiction will have on the player’s career.

The team does have a stake in this, but Rangers’ management needs to realize that Hamilton’s problem is a personal one. As long as it does not affect the way he does his job; as long as he does not resume the drug use, the Rangers don’t have any business getting into this, and neither does Major League Baseball.

Hamilton certainly wants to sign a long-term contract, but the smart thing for the Rangers would be to push for a shorter term. They do have a right to protect their investment – signing Hamilton to perhaps a two or three-year deal will keep the star player in position to play. At the end of such a deal, he will still be young enough to seriously negotiate a longer-term contract.

He should not be treated as a pariah simply because he has a disease that just happens to be less ‘acceptable’ than if he had multiple sclerosis or cancer. If Hamilton’s disease was MS or cancer or some such affliction, the Rangers would go out of their way to assist him. With alcoholism though, he is more likely to be treated as undesirable or untrustworthy.

The Rangers and Major League Baseball (pay attention Bud Selig) need to not judge Hamilton as a man, but help him treat this for what it is – a disease. Good luck, Josh – we hope you can manage your addiction, deal with it for yourself and your family, and continue to wow us with your exceptional baseball skills.

© 2012 LTM

No comments:

Post a Comment