Did Rodriguez get off easy?

August 14, 2013, 8:12 PM GMT+0

Americans are increasingly concerned with the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport, and a significant number think A-Rod isn't facing a proper punishment.

(Week of 8/5/2013) To many fans, the New York Yankees’ third-baseman and three-time MVP, Alex Rodriguez, may have gotten off easy. His 211-game suspension would keep him out of baseball until 2015. However, for about a third of those who pay attention to baseball, it should have been a lifetime ban. 30% of those who follow baseball closely in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll would have suspended him for life. Fewer than one in ten would have been happy with only a fine – or no punishment at all – for using performance enhancing drugs.

Rodriguez says he will fight the suspension.

There is no doubt that Americans think the use of steroid and other performance enhancing drugs by professional athletes is a big problem in professional sports. Many have thought so for a long time. 62% of adults, and an even greater percentage of those who pay attention to baseball, call it a major problem in that sport.

Those concerns, while clearly increasing, have been around for a while, as Americans have confronted doping scandals in sport after sport. Two years ago, 44% said the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs was a major problem in professional sports in general.

That 2011 poll was taken just after a story on 60 Minutes had showcased accusations against cyclist Lance Armstrong of using performance enhancing drugs during his Tour de France victories, but before Armstrong admitted doping. Even two years ago, more thought a majority of baseball and football players were involved in doping than thought most cyclists were. In this poll, more than half the public (as well as more than half of the fans) believe that many, most, or even all Major League Baseball players use performance-enhancing drugs.

Baseball has dealt with doping scandals before. In 2011, a few months before the allegations against Armstrong became major news, San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds was convicted of lying to a grand jury about his use of steroids eight years before, in 2003. Prior to that, far fewer thought most baseball players used performance enhancing drugs: a 2002 CBS News Poll found just 26% of adults thinking that most baseball players took steroids to enhance their performance.

Only about a third of adults say they follow Major League Baseball closely, about the same percentage who have paid close attention to the Alex Rodriguez story. However, Americans continue to be positive about the league in general, though not necessarily about its ability to prevent steroid use. By almost two to one, the public has a favorable view of Major League Baseball overall. Those who follow baseball are even more positive (92% of those who pay close attention to baseball have favorable opinions about MLB).

The public and the fans part company when it comes to their judgments on whether Major League Baseball can regulate itself when it comes to steroid use by players. The overall public says it has done a poor job doing so; those who follow the game think it has done fairly well. More than two out of three of those who follow the game “very closely” give the League good marks in its efforts to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Nearly half of those who follow the sport “somewhat closely” agree.

However, Americans seem to prefer to keep the government out of sports – or at least out of investigating drugs in sports. By more than two to one, they reject a government investigation of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.

At least on this issue it doesn’t matter which party you belong to – Republicans and Democrats agree the government should stay out of this.

Rodriguez became a Yankee in 2004, joining what is both the most popular and the most hated team in baseball. In the Economist/YouGov Poll, the Yankees are liked by more baseball fans than any other team. They were also disliked by more baseball fans than any other team. In fact, more baseball fans dislike the Yankess than like them.

Two teams come close to the Yankees when it comes to being liked: 21% like the Chicago Cubs, a team that has not won the World Series on 104 years, and 22% like the Yankees’ nemesis, the Boston Red Sox. Yet no team comes close to the Yankees when it comes to being disliked. 38% do not like the Yankees. Less than half that percentage dislike either the Red Sox or the Los Angeles Dodgers – the next two most disliked teams.

Images: Getty

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