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Public greets Mitchell Report with a shrug of indifference
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By Nancy Armour

CHICAGO - The long list of disgraced players in the Mitchell Report didn't surprise Cubs fan Bob Burman.

Didn't disappoint him. Didn't anger him. Didn't do much of anything, really.

After years of BALCO and Barry Bonds, fans like Burman are almost numb to news that yet another player took a pharmaceutical short cut. The Mitchell Report might have been bigger and more noteworthy, but its shock value wore off a long time ago.

"I'm kind of indifferent to it, I have to say," Burman said as he watched Thursday night's NFL game between Houston and Denver at Goose Island, a bar near Wrigley Field.

He wasn't alone. From coast to coast, in cities home to both major leagues and bar leagues, the public's reaction to the Mitchell Report was largely a shrug of indifference.

Baseball's two-year investigation simply confirmed what most fans had already assumed. If there was surprise about any players, it was the ones not named in the 311 pages.

Even the news that Roger Clemens was accused of spending part of his stellar career shooting up failed to generate much outrage.

"I really think, over the last decade, that we've been so inundated with athletes using performance-enhancing drugs that nobody is shocked by this report," said Eric Bronson, a sociology professor at Quinnipiac University who teaches "Sociology of Sport."

Worst of all, fans doubt the report, no matter how embarrassing, will change anything.

It was impossible to avoid the Mitchell Report on Thursday. It was the lead story on both sports and news networks, and the report itself was downloaded 1.8 million times off just in the first three hours after it was posted.

People were talking about it at sports bars and games throughout the country. It even caused a buzz at the women's volleyball final four at Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif.

But as baseball has seen for the past decade, knowing and caring are two very different things.

Baseball has been dogged by whispers and rumors about steroids for almost two decades now, with suspicions of performance-enhancing drug use rising right along with the number of home runs. Most assumed Bonds was doping long before he was indicted for lying to a federal grand jury about his steroid use, and any player who bulks up or puts up career numbers is automatically suspect.

Yet fans continue to flock to the ballparks in droves. Major League Baseball set a total attendance record for the fourth straight season this year, drawing 79.5 million people. Eight clubs set season records.

On the Los Angeles Times' Web site, one reader wrote, "I could care less about fair play as long as these overpaid athletes entertain me." On The Commercial Appeal in Memphis' Web site, someone said, "No one cares about this story," while another wrote, "All these guys are cheaters."

After hearing about this player doing this and another doing that for so many years in so many sports, fans no longer can muster the energy to care. Whether it was Mark McGwire, Marion Jones or now Clemens, fans have been disappointed by their heroes one too many times.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who conducted the 20-month investigation, said he believes steroid use has lessened since baseball toughened its drug policy. But human growth hormone remains a problem, and baseball still doesn't have a test for it.

Commissioner Bud Selig promised he would take action, but fans weren't so optimistic. In a poll on the Web site of WCBS, the CBS affiliate in New York City, 70 percent said the Mitchell Report won't keep steroids out of baseball.

After all, baseball has promised to clean up its act before. Athletes have sworn up and down that they're clean, that they would never resort to using performance-enhancing drugs to further their careers.

Yet there the country was Thursday, learning one dirty detail after another of All-Stars, MVPs and journeymen looking for a quick fix while everybody else in baseball looked the other way.