NPR has a story about the polling relating to fans attitudes about PEDs in Major League Baseball. Their look at the polls shows that, among other results, 60 percent of those surveyed said it matters to them “a lot” if baseball players use steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. Twenty nine percent said it matters to them “a little.” Only 9 percent said it matters “not at all.” There are some other results in there too which suggest thinking in keeping with that.
I’m kinda dubious. I obviously write a lot about PEDs because I find it interesting and important, but based on my interaction with readers and baseball fans in general — not just the vocal ones who comment — I’m not sure there is anything approaching a consensus of this among fans.
I think fans care a great deal and have very strong opinions about PEDs when the matter is placed before them. Like, when the story like the one we’ve been tracking the past couple of days first breaks and/or when they are asked specifically about PEDs. I do not, however, think that PEDs are an issue that fans care about all that much in the day-to-day of their baseball fandom. I don’t think that it consumes anyone or changes their opinion about baseball in general. Yes, people say it does. They say it has soured them. But those anecdotal responses are simply not borne out in any tangible way when you look at attendance, revenue, TV ratings or people’s overall attitude about the game.
I also think there is a heavy dose of provincialism among fans when it comes to PEDs. If an already loathed player like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez is implicated, yes, they hate PEDs. If a player on their team’s rival is implicated, oh man, that guy is a disgrace. If their own player is implicated, however, it’s amazing how fast they’ll tell you that PEDs don’t matter, that the guy is the subject of a conspiracy, that he’d still be an All-Star, that “everybody does it” or any other number of other things which seek to diminish the problem. I’ve noticed this in a major, major way in Brewers fans who, in my experience anyway, will go to some pretty extreme lengths to defend Ryan Braun or to otherwise diminish the allegations against him. They’re even bigger Braun apologists than I am.
Not that this is surprising or even bad. It’s just like any other issue in baseball. Fans hate beanballs until their pitcher starts throwing them. They think stealing a base when you’re up by ten runs is low rent unless their team does it. The opposition’s showboating player is a classless hot dog, their showboating player is just filled with joy and enthusiasm and all the good stuff of life. Go back and look at Tony La Russa’s record of taking offense at violations of unwritten rules by opposing teams and not really noticing them when the Cardinals did it.
Which isn’t to say that people don’t have actual moral and ethical beliefs about players taking PEDs. It’s just that they’re not nearly as deep as people may say when asked a point blank question about it by a person taking a survey. Their convictions on it will ebb and flow depending on the news cycle. Or their fandom. Or if the guy was already thought of as an S.O.B. And no matter the case, there is nothing to suggest that PED stories have any large overall negative impact with respect to how people view the game.