Good advice for your kids: Don't get involved in organized, competitive sports.
Yes, it has come to that. It's really that bad. Smart parents can justifiably advise their kids to avoid playing organized sports.
As if we need any more proof that money is at the root of most unscrupulous behavior, here comes Sports Illustrated with its expose on rampant steroid use in major-league baseball.
We can't play dumb anymore. We can't lie to ourselves and pretend that non-steroid-using American athletes are routinely swatting one-handed, 450-foot home runs, leaping over a wall of 6-foot-5, 320-pound linemen to sack a Kobe Bryant-sized quarterback and running 200 meters in the time it takes to log on to AOL.
Ken Caminiti, a former National League MVP, told us in an interview with SI's Tom Verducci what we already suspected, what many of us already knew. The reason baseballs are leaving ballparks at a record clip is because a significant number of players are juiced.
Caminiti admitted taking steroids. But what was most enlightening was that he acknowledged that, despite his post-career ailments, he doesn't regret taking steroids. In the article, Caminiti pointed to Alex Rodriguez's $252 million contract, and said he wouldn't discourage any major-leaguer from taking steroids.
In Caminiti's mind, the potential health risks are worth it.
That same mind-set permeates professional football and every other sport in which big money can be made by becoming bigger, stronger and faster. What's most disturbing is that same mind-set permeates college, high school and junior high campuses that house competitive sports teams.
We can't deny rampant steroid use among our athletes. We can't bury our heads and say, "Well, if a pro athlete wants to sacrifice his future health in pursuit of money, it's his decision. It's none of our business." Barry Bonds, the home-run king, basically said that. Barry's wrong because pro athletes set the training agenda for young athletes. Steroid use by pro athletes is like secondhand smoke. It damages the non-user, too. It puts pressure on the non-user. There's a trickle-down effect.
College players want to make the pros, so they start using steroids to keep up with major-leaguers. High school kids want to win scholarships, so they start using steroids to keep pace with collegians. Junior-high kids want to play varsity... you get the picture.
It's real. I've heard the families debating with their 15-year-olds about using over-the-counter supplements. The kids want to compete. They want to keep pace with the kids they suspect are using creatine or steroids or something else. Kids know just how fast they need to run the 40 to attract a Big 12 football scholarship.
It's sad. Just 15 years ago, when I played high school football on a team with several Division I prospects, there was virtually no pressure to use supplements or steroids. We wanted scholarships and our games were packed with college recruiters, but we gave hardly any thought to what it would take to play college ball. Maybe we were naive. We just played the game and thought outstanding play would earn us a scholarship.
That's not good enough anymore. Last month when I went home, I was surprised when I read that Indiana now has a one-day scouting combine for high school kids. College coaches come together and test hundreds of high school prospects in the 40-yard dash, agility drills and weightlifting.
Do you think a kid might be tempted to use a cycle of steroids in preparation for combine day? In the kid's mind, he's going to the combine hoping to earn a scholarship worth thousands of dollars. "Why not take a small risk? Everybody else is doing it. It's just one time. It's my body, and a football scholarship is the only way I can afford college."
I wouldn't criticize any parent who directs a child to stay away from organized sports. Tell 'em to play PlayStation and intramural sports.
Jason Whitlock is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star.