Alex Rodriguez, Justice, and Revenge

Streeter Lecka

This whole thing has really got me down. Freud would say it is because I never really had a close relationship with my father. Fathers are our first heroes, the ones we so intimately look up to. So when you're 11 or so and you realize your father is not, in fact, a demigod, you get all rebellious and anxious and betrayed and then try to kill him to sleep with your mother. At least, that's what Freud would say. Or something like that. But since I never really idolized my father like that (he's great, don't get me wrong. I just never got the whole dad is god thing), I never got all rebellious and anxious and betrayed. He is quite sure though that us dumb kids tried to kill him plenty of times.

In general though, when dad ultimately fails us, we search for other heroes. Many of us turn to professional athletes, a neurosis that has spawned numerous multi-billion-dollar industries. On the cusp of our teenage years, we squint our eyes at dear old dad, furrow our brows, and rage at him. All those times we stayed out too late, deliberately disobeyed, and lied to his face, we were just pissed that he wasn't who we thought he was.

Kids of my generation then turned to the likes of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and all those other guys who now spell their names with asterisks. They were really great, even greater than dad's heroes from when he was a kid. (Take that, dad.) But, just like dad, these heroes failed us. They became gods by less than divine means. They weren't gods at all. So now we are all rebellious and anxious and betrayed. We demand justice.

In the case of Alex Rodriguez, justice is apparently a possible lifetime ban from baseball, absolute public shame, and, word has it, a sensible cot in the corner of the deepest circle of blackest, coldest hell (this is Dante's cold hell, not TV's hot hell), with only a Derek Jeter commemorative snuggie to keep him warm. Sweet, sweet justice.

I don't really want to argue what punishment is really fair for him. That's what has really got me down. It has me thinking about justice in abstract, how we come to define it, and how we achieve it. And I don't think this is it.

A few months back, I heard a piece on NPR about justice and revenge. Thane Rosenbaum is a law professor at Fordham University (pause for FordhamRam to blurt like an idiot) and he recently wrote this thing (his original piece is here) about how vengeance is natural and healthy and even psychologically and biologically necessary. I won't get too deep into the weeds with Professor Rosenbaum, but he basically says justice and revenge are actually identical. If Alex Rodriguez ruined baseball, then we should ruin him right back. That's justice. And man, that really got me down.

A lot of folks get real satisfaction from blood vengeance. A-Rod's kind of injustice, if left unpunished and uncorrected, turns real ugly real quick. Usually the internet is an incubator for hyperbole. But I suspect that the anger and vitriol spewed forth recently at the likes of A-Rod and Ryan Braun is horrifyingly sincere. People actually do want to see these guys executed and pieces of their dismembered bodies displayed at the entrances of all major league parks. At least, I really can't tell if they are joking or not.

But me? I don't know. I just can't get angry about it in the first place. I watch the guttural crowds frothing towards climax as the convicted are being marched to the gallows. Vengeance is nigh, and it is spectacular. But for me, I just feel so alienated. I see everyone sating their bloodlust on the corpses of our fallen heroes and it really distresses me. Revenge? Is that really what you want? Is that really what makes you feel better?

Me? I just can't understand it. I'm not angry because A-Rod used steroids, I'm down because you are so thrilled to see him punished. You really want to get back at dad for that time he forgot to pick you up from soccer practice and you had to walk a few blocks over to your friend Tyler's house to use the telephone to call and see where he was and then he lied and blamed it on mom and then you told her all about it when she got home and it caused that really big fight and you just know that's why they broke up and if he had just remembered to pick you up or at least had not lied about it then they never would have gotten divorced and you wouldn't have had to move. And so you really wanted revenge. You always made sure to call mom's house "my house" and his house "dad's house." That showed him.

But I just don't get that. I suppose you first have to elevate someone to hero status before they can betray you so dramatically. Only someone once thought perfect could become so hated. High expectations lead to enormous resentments. And you know, that's really your problem, not A-Rod's.

I should give my dad a call.

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