Slugging Milwaukee Brewer outfielder Ryan Braun’s accomplishments earned him the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 2011. But his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs — one that will force him to sit out the rest of the 2013 season — forever called into question all of his achievements. Of course, Braun wasn’t the first player to be caught using steroids, and he won’t be the last. Their number includes Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, and Roger Clemens, a pitcher with 354 wins in his career. Within the next couple of weeks more players, most notably Alex Rodriguez, are likely to be punished for the same offense, some probably more severely than Braun.
One thing is different this time, however. Unlike previous attempts by players' union representatives to create a civil-rights issue over steroid testing, most present-day players have vigorously condemned Braun’s PED usage. The adverse reaction to Braun by other players was noticed and applauded by Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the organization that banned Lance Armstrong for life from competitive cycling for his use of steroids. According to Tygart, “It’s a new generation of athletes that are standing up. The culture’s been flipped on its head.”
That new generation is the Millennial generation. Millennials are a type of cohort that generational analysts call “civic.” Although some erroneously label Millennials as narcissistic and selfish, their record-breaking participation in community service efforts and the current deep decline in youth crime are just two of many behavioral facts that demonstrate that they are a well-behaved and team-oriented generation. Like other civic generations before them, Millennials are already bringing those positive traits to a Major League Baseball stadium near you. Before they are through flipping baseball’s culture, the national pastime is likely to experience its second golden age, similar to the one the previous civic generation, the GI Generation, brought to the game 80 years ago.
Most of baseball’s PED users have been members of the individualistic, iconoclastic Generation X. Even those X’ers who did not use steroids, rarely criticized those players who did. Compare that generational reaction to that of Millennial Max Scherzer, the Detroit Tigers' players' union representative.
“The whole thing has been despicable on his part. For me, as a player, you want to believe that the system works, but obviously he found a way around it. And when he did get caught, he never came clean … That’s why there’s so much player outrage toward him.” In fact, Scherzer doesn’t think Braun’s punishment was tough enough — he wants even more severe penalties for PED usage. He said, "We want to see either longer suspensions or whatever it takes to take away the incentive — the financial gain — taken away from players. Whether that’s voiding contracts, longer suspensions, you’re seeing every player jump on board that the penalty doesn’t fit the crime yet.”
But the Millennial generation’s contribution to baseball in the years ahead is going to be more positive than just condemning those who don’t compete fairly. Unlike most of the Gen X’ers before them, who focused on their individual achievements and large paychecks from whatever team was willing to pay them the most money, many Millennial players seem committed to the team that that originally signed them, trained them in the minors, and brought them to the big leagues.
In the same week that Ryan Braun was suspended, Red Sox second baseman and Millennial Dustin Pedroia signed an eight-year, $110 million contract two seasons before he would have become a free agent. Pedroia will clearly not suffer financially, but he likely could have received more money had he elected to go on the open market. However, there was more to his decision than the size of his paycheck. “This [Boston] is my home. I love being here. I love my teammates, love this city … A lot of teams passed on me because of my size [he’s 5’9” and weighs about 160 pounds] … That’s why I want to make sure I work as hard as I can to make sure they made the right choice in drafting me … I just want to make sure I’m playing my last game here.”
Pedroia is not the only Millennial generation ballplayer to make every effort to remain with his original team for the duration of his career. Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw has made plain his desire to remain in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers have reciprocated that interest. However, perhaps the most surprising case of a Millennial sticking with his first team is Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez, who signed a seven-year contract extension with the small-market Seattle Mariners, a perennially non-contending team, last February. Most baseball observers believe that Hernandez could have made far more money and fame elsewhere.
In the first two decades of the 20th century baseball faced a crisis every bit as damaging to the game as steroid usage is now. That threat culminated when eight members of a generation of ballplayers described by baseball historian Bill James as “shysters, con men, drunks, and outright thieves” conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series. Like today, it took a new generation of players to rescue the game. Those GI generation players not only saved baseball, but also produced a golden era of high achievement on the field and record attendance in the stands. Baseball history is about to repeat itself in the Millennial era.
at Christian Science Monitor
Many protective mothers and fathers of Millennials aren't allowing their kids to play tackle football because of health risks. These attitudes could close the NFL’s pipeline to many talented players. But these concerns also have the potential to change the violent NFL culture for the better.
The emergence of the Millennial generation poses an existential threat to the future of the National Football League.
Professional football has been America’s favorite spectator sport since 1972 when baby boomers became the most important TV audience demographic. Steve Sabol, the genius behind NFL Films that helped to popularize the NFL in the 1960s, captured the drama and danger of pro football with his slow motion films of big violent hits backed by stirring music.
Pro football, depicted by Mr. Sabol as a confrontation between good and evil in which there can be only one winner, matched the values of baby boomers a half century ago. But this focus is not as appealing to the Millennial generation with its focus on win-win solutions and an instinct for avoiding confrontation.
Furthermore, out of concern for the future health of their children, many protective mothers and fathers of Millennials are deciding their kids should not play tackle football at all. These attitudes could close the NFL’s pipeline to many talented players within the coming decade. But these concerns also have the potential to change NFL culture for the better.
Millennials (young people 9-30 years old) were reared by their parents in a highly sheltered and protected manner. The generation’s arrival was signaled by “baby on board” bumper stickers and AMBER Alerts, major child protection legislation and “helicopter parents.”
Because of the way they were reared, Millennials are the most risk averse in recent American history. Concerned about the safety of their “special” children, the parents of many Millennials have demonstrated a strikingly fearful reaction to a series of reports about the devastating impact playing in the NFL has had on many former players.
According to GamesOver.org, a group “dedicated to serving and meeting the transitional needs of players when they leave the game,” 65 percent of NFL players retire with permanent injuries, while the suicide rate of former NFL players is six times the national average, possibly due in part to a brain disorder that researchers say impacts those who have suffered multiple concussions.
So far, more than 3,000 former NFL players have filed more than 100 lawsuits against the league for concussion-related conditions. If they are combined in a single class action, these suits could cost the NFL millions of dollars and possibly threaten it with bankruptcy. Moreover, in each of the past two seasons about 15 percent of those on NFL rosters (270 in 2010 and 266 in 2011) received concussions. And already in the first month of this season, at least two starting quarterbacks have been sidelined by concussions.
The NFL has taken note of the threat and is working to reduce the impact of concussion-related injuries through improved equipment, especially helmets that provide enhanced protection. It is also working toward better coaching that teaches safer tackling and blocking techniques. And the league is developing new rules or stronger enforcement of existing ones that prohibit or reduce blows to the head.
But there are some who doubt the effectiveness of those efforts, or even feel that they are incompatible with the brand of a sport that is based on vigorous contact. Still, the NFL Players’ Association has strongly endorsed them.These changes to improve player safety need to be made quickly if the NFL is to avoid another potentially more serious challenge to its future – the unwillingness of the parents of Millennials to allow their sons to play football.
Most shocking, a number of current and former NFL players – among them quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw, Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, and Troy Aikman and linebacker Bart Scott, famed for his hard-hitting style – say that, due to its dangers, they would bar their sons from playing the game in which they earned fame and fortune.
Perspectives like this have the potential to hamper or even halt participation in the programs that develop future NFL players. Because, other than a Canadian variation, American-style football is only played in the United States, there are no replacement athletes in the pipeline for football from foreign countries as there are for other professional sports.
Millennials were reared by their parents to be an egalitarian, group-oriented cohort, one that believes the welfare and success of individuals is best assured by maximizing the welfare and success of the entire group. It’s no coincidence, then, that high schools and colleges prohibited the taunting of opponents and exaggerated celebration of individual achievements on the gridiron just as Millennials were beginning to play football at those levels.
Perhaps Millennials will bring their group-oriented values to the NFL, producing a kinder, gentler version of pro football just in time to save the league from its boomer-dominated approach.
If so, the version of football that Steve Sabol’s films made so popular a half century ago will become a thing of the past. But, if the NFL doesn’t take the steps necessary to convince Millennials and their parents that their game is safe to play, it will take much more than brillian