Zero. That’s the number of players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame last week—and not for lack of qualification and impressive resumes. The reason was cheating, or more accurately the suspicion of cheating. There was such a pervasive misgiving and uncertainty about which former players might have used performance-enhancing drugs that the 569 voters couldn’t agree on even one eligible player. Therefore, legends like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa will not join the hallowed ranks of Cy Young, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio—at least not this year.
The plea to these suspected cheaters is “admit it!” We demand that they come clean and honestly air their wrongdoing for all to see. Often, though, we believe this will clear the air and remove tension. But think of those athletes who have admitted to cheating. In 2010, former baseball slugger Mark McGwire, behemoth of a man with Popeye-shaped forearms, publicly admitted to steroid use during his career. And just this week cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping during his incredible run of seven Tour de France titles. These men did as we asked, but what did it gain them to “come clean”?
For McGwire, it gained him the annual inability to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame despite being one of the defining sluggers of his era. For Armstrong, it gained him a loss of endorsements and a pile of public mockery. For these two men and others like them, it gained them a scarlet letter-like label that may or may not fade over time. And it gained them an identity as a “cheater.” Some of these consequences are a just result of wrongdoing, while others are simply vindictive.
Our society doesn’t respond positively to “coming clean,” no matter what is implied about relieving tension or clearing the air. The court of public opinion doesn’t offer plea bargains or leniency for cooperation with the prosecution. We are much more like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland: “OFF with his head!” We are a kangaroo court simply looking for the next target of our ongoing ridicule rather than seeking fair and fixed consequences. We propose honesty and then punish men for complying—sort of a bait and switch.
With so little hope for the guilty in society we must ask whether the church offers hope to them. Do we provide a place where honesty and admission of guilt is safe? Do we ask people to “admit it” out of a desire to skewer them or out of a compassionate desire to restore them? Do we see ourselves as judge, jury, and executioner? O should we see ourselves as men and women who have already been pardoned for our own “cheating”? Do we seek true justice and fair consequences rather than shaming and demeaning the guilty? If we do not we are nothing more than a religious extension of a condemnatory society.