Baseball fans young and old will remember the day their worst suspicions proved true-the day that dozens of the nation's greatest athletes and childhood role models turned out to be common cheats.
The results of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's 21-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in baseball sent shock waves around the league on Dec. 13. The report links 88 active and former players to banned substances over the past decade and rebukes the game's owners, commissioners, front office officials, and players union for their "collective failure" to resist the advent of this steroid culture.
Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada, Andy Petite, and Gary Sheffield are among the biggest names of a list that includes 31 All-Stars, seven MVPs, and two Cy Young Award winners. What's more, Mitchell considers his report far from comprehensive, a mere scratch to the surface of a problem that has infected every clubhouse in Major League Baseball.
But rather than recommend stiff punishment for past offenders, Mitchell's report calls on baseball to move forward-to avoid dragged-out suspension proceedings that look back and instead implement strict new testing and zero-tolerance policies for the future. Mitchell hopes his work can represent the end of the drug-tainted era, not the beginning of a litigation cloud.
Other professional sports leagues seem eager to follow that same forward-looking approach as the year of the cheater comes to a close. NBA enthusiasts cannot forget quickly enough the stunning scandal of gambling referee Tim Donaghy that played out this past summer. NFL fans can only wish that the New England Patriots' run toward one of the greatest seasons in league history were not tainted by coach Bill Belichick's illegal videotaping of opponents' play-calling signals.
Individual athletes were similarly scandalized, with track star Marion Jones and world-class cyclist Michael Rasmussen caught in the thicket of doping charges.
The Mitchell Report serves as a fitting end to a sports year full of such disgraceful behavior. Any inspiring stories over the last 12 months-most notably a Super Bowl victory for exemplary Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy-seem overshadowed in the darkness that was 2007.
Also in December ...
United Russia, the country's leading political party, won a landslide victory in Dec. 2 parliamentary elections, capturing more than 64 percent of the votes. But given the stacked press coverage and manipulation of election laws to keep opposing parties off the ballot, the results proved too weak a mandate for President Vladimir Putin to seek a third term, a move that would have required altering the Russian constitution.
Instead, Putin handpicked Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, an endorsement expected to face no serious challenge in national elections this spring. Putin may stay on to serve as prime minister, in which case Medvedev could serve as a mere puppet for the continued rule of Russia's "Chief Bear."
On Dec. 4, the much-anticipated sentencing of convicted terrorist Jose Padilla was postponed until early January due to a death in the judge's family. The 37-year-old U.S. citizen was convicted in August of conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim people overseas, which carries a recommended sentence of 30 years to life in prison.
President George W. Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant in 2002 after federal authorities foiled a plot to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a major city. That designation allowed the military to detain Padilla for 3 1/2 years without a trial, during which time he claims to have endured psychological torture that should, his lawyers contend, entitle him to leniency.
Delegates to the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin in central California on Dec. 8 voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church (TEC) but to remain part of the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. The departure represents the first for an entire TEC diocese since the Civil War and highlights a growing rift in Episcopal and Presbyterian churches over biblical authority and homosexuality.
Three other dioceses have taken initial steps to disaffiliate and will vote in the coming year: Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and Quincy in northern Illinois. Two of the largest churches in the Sacramento presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently bought their way out of the denomination, agreeing to pay between $160,000 and $250,000 to avoid costly lawsuits.
Matthew Murray killed four people and wounded five others during an anti-Christian killing spree Dec. 9 at Youth With a Mission's Arvada, Colo., training center and New Life Church in Colorado Springs. New Life security guard Jeanne Assam ended the rampage with several non-lethal shots at the gunman, who then took his own life.
Murray likely targeted New Life for its connections to YWAM, an organization that had rejected him as a missionary candidate in 2002. Raised and homeschooled in an evangelical home, the troubled 24-year-old viewed Christians as the source of his mental anguish.
Want to be in show business? How much money do you have?
With $100 million, you can make the newly opened I Am Legend (PG-13 for violence and intense action). It stars Will Smith (expensive, but worth it) plus a computer-altered portrait of a decaying, grassy New York City populated only by Smith, animals, and hairless, pale ex-humans turned bloodthirsty by a cancer cure gone horribly wrong.
But poor Christians in an age of theatrical extravagance need not give up. Exhibit A: a New York performance of The Screwtape Letters, a two-actor version of the great book by C.S. Lewis that features a senior devil instructing an apprentice on how to bring a young man to hell.
Behind this low-budget but high-energy presentation is the New Jersey-based Fellowship for the Performing Arts, which aims "to produce theater from a Christian worldview that is engaging to a diverse audience." FPA had playwrights Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean transform Lewis' letters into gripping drama, with McLean cast as an urbane Screwtape in a plush smoking jacket.
McLean does all the speaking for 85 minutes without intermission, and real sweat puddles his face by performance's end. But Karen Wright as Screwtape's secretary, Toadpipe, keeps the show from being just a talking head. A mix of Gollum and puppy, she squeaks and grunts appreciation of her boss, then mimes wonderfully the human behavior Screwtape describes in words.
The Screwtape Letters is on stage at a close-to-Broadway church that doubles as a theater, but it does not merely preach to the choir: Reviewers in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, NYTheatre.com, and CurtainUp.com have praised it. Christians across the United States can evangelize in their own cities by putting on tiny-cast, relatively inexpensive plays of this kind.
I Am Legend, the expensive action flick, might seem the opposite of Screwtape, but some parallels emerge. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is in a hell of sorts, all alone by day and besieged by ghouls at night. His Robinson Crusoe position on the newly grassy island of Manhattan is intriguing enough to carry the first half of the film, but after an hour it's time for the plot to move.
And move it does. Neville, a scientist, is trying to find the cure for the virus that kills humans or turns them into residents of the ghoulag. But science by itself is not the hero here; it turns out that faith is essential. Early in the movie Neville drives past a truck displaying a poster, "God still loves us." Later, trying to comprehend the physical or spiritual demise of 6 billion people, he declares, "There is no God."
Rumor has it that the filmmakers tried several endings and settled on one suggesting that there is a God. That's what a mysterious woman who shows up with her son tells Neville: "He has a plan. He sent me here for a reason." She even thinks the end of civilization has some benefits: "The world is quieter now. It's easier to hear God."
Neville for three years has been weighed down with the belief that only he can save mankind. In a penultimate scene Neville shouts at the attacking ghouls, "You are sick and I can save you! Let me save you!" It turns out that he can't, all by himself, but he becomes Christ-like in one sense, and a combination of science plus faith eventually makes the difference.
The summary just given might give the wrong impression of I am Legend. It's an action flick, not a dramatic theological tract like The Screwtape Letters. Its bottom line is not hearts changed but $76.5 million grabbed at the box office on opening weekend. But the separation of church and screen has never been complete, so note well: Hollywood producers and presidential candidates both know that a little bit of religion helps an audience feel satisfied.