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Performance Enhancing Shrugs

Bloodsisters The news of Manny Ramirez’s positive drug test hit the sports community today like a Roger Clemens fastball: up and in and right under the chin. So, while we’re collecting ourselves for the next pitch from an ever wilder collection of professional athletes, we should take a moment to review the current position.

“These guys [Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens] are going to have a hard time getting into the hall,” said Tim Kurkjian on ESPN News tonight. Manny now finds himself in that esteemed group of guys who got caught. A day ago it might have been a compliment to have your name lumped in with Manny, but no longer. He’s received the mark of shame. But does he deserve it? Do any of these “enhanced” atheletes deserve that?

At this point I’d like to briefly review some of the sentimental arguments.

1. If stars use, kids will start to use. (The let’s-protect-our-children argument)

2. Users have an unfair advantage. (The cheating argument)

3. Users don’t have a respect for the game. (A variation of the cheater argument)

4. Users hurt their bodies for the sake of performance. (The it’s-sad-they’re-so-stupid-as-to-end-up-with-man-b0obs-and-shrunk-junk-just-to-work-out-more argument)

Now that we’ve reviewed, let’s ignore those arguments and for goodness sake please, let’s stop acting like performance enhancing drugs are a problem. People don’t watch sports to see ho-hum, every day, quotidien unfeats of strength, agility, and speed. We don’t tune in to Sports Center to catch up on all the amazing stuff that almost happened. We participate in the religion of sports because we l0ve super-human feats. We love watching the impossible. Look no further than the NBA theme: “Where Amazing Happens.”

The entire life of an athelete is devoted to performance enhancing. Whether its watching tape, shooting free-throws, icing joints, receiving cortozone injections during halftime so that they can play through the pain, the entire sports industry is one big performance enhancing endeavor. So let’s stop pretending that we care whether or not Manny is taking hCG to regain testosterone after a steroid cycle. Let’s stop getting our dander up over Barry’s cream, or Clemens’ beer can, or Jose’s juice.

There is no reason that locker rooms all around America shouldn’t doping up their players to get 150% out of them. That’s what we pay to see. We show up to watch amazing. We wait in line to see records broken, visitors go home broken-hearted, and freakish atheletes with inhuman abilities perform in our presence.

So please, stop telling me that we should suspend players who dope. Stop crying about cleaning up the game. Shut up about integrity. And please, most of all, give up on the the sentimental arguments. Steroids don’t give you the ability to hit a 95 mph fastball 400 ft. They don’t make you fast enough to run a 4.2 40. They don’t make you catch a ball, help you understand the game, or give you the mental capacity to handle the pressure of stardom.

They do help you recover faster, increase your endurance, and give you a pretty good shot of prolonging your career. That way the fans only get to see more amazing feats from their favorite player. Of course there’s risk invovled. But that comes with the territory. Ask the vast majority of offensive linemen who can barely walk by the age of forty, or the basket ball players whose ankles and back are so shot that they live in pain the rest of their life. Athelete’s take a pounding for their paycheck.

Sports is one of the most physically destructive constructs of our society, but that doesn’t bother us. We don’t care if boxers die at 50 from aneurysms. We don’t care that football players die of kidney failure from the copious ammounts of anti-inflammatories that have been pumped through their bodies. But for some reason we do seem to care about steroids. For some reason we have decided that there is just something wrong with this kind of performance enhancement. It’s just unfair.

In reality, what is truly unfair is our judgment of performance enhancing drugs. These atheletes are giving us exactly what we’ve been asking for: bigger, better, faster, more. And when we find out how hard they’ve worked to deliver what we’ve asked for? We call them cheaters. We threaten to keep them out of the hall of fame. We want them thrown out of the game. It’s shameful. We’re disgracing the game with our hypocrisy.

The player’s associations and the coaches and the owners need to put their heads together and finally get this straight. Legalize PEDs. The system will balance itself out. These guys want to play as long as possible to make as much as possible and to be loved for as long as possible. Only a few are stupid enough to actually damage their bodies with dangerous performance enhancers. The vast majority are simply delivering the highest quality product that they possibly can for as long as they can. Come on folks! This is America. Aren’t we supposed to applaud that?

So, I believe it’s time to answer this barrage of performance enhancing drug news with a performance enhancing shrug. Shut up and play ball.

8 Comments

  1. Interesting take on it… We ask athletes to give everything else for the win, why not their long term health due to drug use?

    Sports require arbitrary rules that get followed by everyone. So I don’t necessarily have a problem with banning substances, but I do have a problem with the hypocrisy of looking the other way because you don’t want to out your superstars.

    Superstar athletes are often naturally genetic freaks in ways that are “healthy” (balance, coordination, endurance) and “unhealthy” (enlarged hearts, naturally abnormal amounts of growth hormone, too much testosterone/endorphins, etc).

    Soon we’ll be able to engineer these genetic advantages, perhaps even after birth by retrofitting our dna with nanotechnology. Then this will get even more complicated.

  2. Nice post. I also appreciate stonyhill’s reference to genetic engineering. What say you reconstruct? Anything goes? Maybe we could have ideal specifications for breeds of athletes the same way we do for dogs. I would want a purebred jockey because that would be a very wee person with excellent skills in manipulation.

  3. At first glance I thought I agreed with you. But on second glance, :), I’m not so sure.

    I love baseball. In fact the Red Sox our my team. And I was glad we got rid of Manny. I know he was the highest salaried player on the team. But I didn’t watch them play to see him. I watch them play to see Pedroia’s focus and obvious love of the game, I watch them to see Jacobi use uncanny speed and heart to steel bases, I watch them to see Veritek “cheat” the catches so they look like strikes, and I watch them to see Lowell come through time and time again, despite playing injured last season. And I could go on through the list.

    I do not however watch them so I can see inhuman feats of strength. I watch them to see them deal with their humanness and succeed despite of and because of it. And I watch/experience the heartbreaks too.

    The game would lose something for me if I knew that they were all hopped up on drugs to make them beyond human.

  4. I agree with some of your sentiments, pebble. But I get curious when we use language like “beyond human.” Are you defining a human as someone who plays “without the aid of drugs?”

  5. The fact that you like those “small” things about the game is part of my point. Folks are getting their dander up about how taking steroids is cheating, but PEDs don’t help a catcher frame pitches, or develop a burning desire for the game, or give them the eyesight or the hand eye coordination to foul off pitches for a 15 pitch at bat.

    Steroids don’t interrupt our favorite parts of the game.

    Also, I’d echo Will’s sentiment and ask what ‘beyond human’ means. As it stands many of these players are on the field on any given day because they’re on pain killers or cortizone or beta blockers. America has similar problems with PEDs off the field as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of steroids. It just gets my panties in a bunch to see the arbitrary line drawn in the sand of American culture. For instance, HGH is fine (ignored) because baseball doesn’t test for it yet.

    To boil it down let me say that the game isn’t “clean.” Never has been. Guys have always used whatever was at hand to aid their performance. It just seems silly to me to call a host of players cheaters because they use one form of performance enhancement.

  6. the ironic thing is that “performance enhancing drugs” are so common in people’s everyday life, like caffeine for example

  7. Window, I’m not sure how I define human. That’s a really good question. Reading the Jeremy Narby stuff intrigued me. Drugs were a link to another level of knowledge only attainable by those on drugs. Is that beyond human? Or just a tool available to us?

    I did my share of dabbling in recreational drugs when I was in high school and college. Some of the things I experienced could definitely be called beyond human. Others, simply part of the human experience amplified. If I needed to take these drugs for these experiences everyday, just to play the game of life, am I still human? I don’t know.

    Rekonstruct, I hear where you are coming from, and agree with the argument, but not the conclusion. Just because America has created a society where it benefits us to be on drugs, and is almost 100% necessary for survival doesn’t mean we should okay it.

    Sports aren’t the only arena where drugs help “players” perform better and last longer. How many people need painkillers on a daily basis? Or their morning cup of coffee to preform at work or school? Blood pressure medications, Viagra, cholesterol medications, medications for ADD and ADHD so our kids can perform better in school….the list goes on and on. We have become a nation of pills and injections.

    Yes, I see no problem with a person choosing for themselves whether or not they want to use a drug. No matter what the purpose. But, I feel like by okaying it and rewarding it we are also okaying the motivation. The players need for more fame and more money at the cost of their own body. People’s need to work 80 hour work weeks with little sleep, kids needs to eat sugar and drink caffeine and still sit still in class, America’s need to eat fast food, drink, smoke and live high stress lives and still want good cholesterol. If I were in charge of the MLB I probably wouldn’t allow steroids. If I were the owner of a team, I definitely wouldn’t. And as a fan I would only support teams who didn’t.

    I guess maybe that would be something to tie into my comment to Window, is ignoring our bodies needs (covering those needs with drugs) human? Isn’t our body really the only thing that makes/keeps us human?

    (P.S. I still feel like players on steroids ruin the game for others. Steroid home run streaks ruin the infielders chances to actually play the game. Does a steroid using runner have an advantage over a non-steroid using first baseman trying to throw him out?)

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