Heritage is normally associated with positive legacies – after all, that which we have inherited and wish to pass along to the next generation tend to be positive. That being said, we do inherit negative heritages as well – sometimes unintentionally, though often as a way of “learning from the past.”
Sport certainly has negative heritages. In fact, as my colleague Sean Gammon and I argued back in 2005, one of the benefits of a term like sport heritage (as opposed to, say, just sport nostalgia) is the fact that heritage has the capacity for both the light and the dark. There are, of course, “dark” sport heritage places and events – like the Hillsborough disaster – but, I think, many of the negative sport heritages come from legacies of racism, sexism, violence, and homophobia. Some of these are being actively combated, though many sadly remain.
I got thinking about negative or dark sport heritages today when news of the latest round of PED suspensions in Major League Baseball were announced today. Despite the fact that there are some pretty big names included, I suppose it all seems rather expected. Still, I think back on events like the Ben Johnson scandal in 1988 (and how surprising and shocking it was) and wonder whether we could consider this era of PEDs as a kind of “sport heritage” – albeit one that is negative for a variety of reasons. Johnson certainly wasn’t the first to use PEDs – and the MLB players suspended today won’t be the last – but I wonder how we fit PEDs, their history, use, and the reaction to them (by media, fans, and governing bodies, etc) as “heritage”?