Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Rational Take on Steroids

With the recent media circus surrounding the Mitchell report, and more recently, Roger Clemens' visit with Congress, it might be time to take a rational look at the subject of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's). It is a tough subject, but in truth, it is being typically blown beyond proportion in the media. Ever since there was truly something at stake (money, reputation, fame) athletes have worked hard to gain a competitive advantage. The greater the value of what is at stake, the greater the effort put in. This typically takes the form of hard training, exercise routines, stretching, diet, innovative strategies, etc. But, how do you get an edge? Any way you can. Remember Sylvester Stallone in Rocky? His edge was unusual down to earth workouts - punching butchered steers, running stairs in downtown Philly, working out in remote Russian farms, etc. His opponent in Rocky 4 went high tech - computerized analysis of intense workouts. An edge over what Stallone was doing.

Okay, that's all fine, but what about steriods? Well, the technology of physical fitness has dramatically increased over the last few decades. Gatorade was introduced. Power bars. Stop by any health store and look at the array of powders and mixes to add muscle, reduce fat, extend workouts, increase energy, etc. All designed to get an edge. Steroids and PED's are out there too.

Steroids were made notable initially in the world of weight lifting and body building. Professional football picked up on it as well. The problem is, these are powerful drugs that require careful medical monitoring to be fully safe. Using them any other way is illegal as a result. What they do is allow the muscles to quickly repair themselves following an intense workout. This allows the athlete to build up muscle quicker, and work out harder and more often - all drug enhanced.

So, how does this all apply to baseball? The Jose Canseco era Oakland A's really brought steroids into prime time. Never before had baseball seen such huge, chiseled players. The result? Home run city, and a few world championships. The big problem is, according to MLB, it was NOT against the rules. It was against the law to use without a prescription under a doctor's supervision. It was also clearly "cheating" from an ethical perspective. Body building, the NFL, and the Olympic Committee had all previously denounced steroids, so we all knew using steroids was going too far. It was unnaturally taking the body beyond where it would normally go, and most players would avoid it - thus providing an even playing field for those who were brave enough to partake.

The real crime is that MLB opted to overlook the obvious indiscretion because they liked the results. Jose Canseco and Mark Macguire set a terrible trap. Their success was praised nationwide. Players like Barry Bonds were frustrated. Barry is a much better player than these guys, but they were getting all the fame and glory. And, while it was outside of good sense and ethics, it was within the rules of the company they worked for. So, Barry could not help himself. To prove he was better than the rest of them, he needed to compete on a level playing field with them - and according to MLB, he was NOT cheating. Roger Clemens? It seems he was indeed beginning to slow down with age, as we all do. Again, imagine being offered a drink from the fountain of youth - get back that strength and ability - just take a few simple shots? How can you turn that down, especially when it does NOT break the rules of MLB?

MLB allowed it to happen, they allowed it to go on, and players that were daring enough, and driven enough took advantage. Now, there is a lynch mob mentality to round up these players. What enrages the fans the most is when they out and out lie about it. Who is coming out on top? The ones who tell the truth. Jason Giambi was first. Now, Andy Pettitte (for HGH). These players cause fans to shake their heads, boo the player to show our disapproval for their decisions, and then move on. Jason is now just another player. Yes, we know some of his past performance was chemically enhanced, but we're okay moving forward. Same with Pettitte. He made a bad decision, confessed, and moved on. Do you remember Gary Sheffield roomed with Bonds and admitted to using the Cream? I did not think so - we've moved past that.

It seems all too clear that players like Bonds and Clemens had their hand in the cookie jar too. No different than Macguire, Giambi, Pettitte, and a host of others. But to point their fingers at us while vowing how they are innocent is a direct insult, and fans the flames of anger, and helping blow it all out of proportion. Bonds and Clemens had the audacity to do something none of these others players did - they broke all time records and became historic icons in baseball lore. We want to praise their accomplishments at ending up at the very top of baseball history, but now we cannot embrace that. Their feats are tainted. Had MLB stepped in a decade ago and put a stop to it, we would not be here today. But here we are.

So, now what? As a baseball fan, we move on. We have moved past the Black Sox scandal, racial segregation, Pete Rose's gambling scandal, player strikes, spit balls, corked bats, stolen signs, sliding into second base with cleats raised to inflict injury, lowering the pitching mound, the introduction of the designated hitter, etc. Now, we need to simply recognize, as FANS, not as ownership, that this has happened and it is getting under control.

We need to begin to trust that this year's players are reasonably clean. We need to admit that some of the feats accomplished over the past decade are steroid enhanced, and let it go. The players were not breaking MLB rules, and they got away with pushing the envelope. We look back and hate they did it, but we also enjoyed it while it was going on. They set records the way no one could in the past, and it is now part of history. We don't need to like it, but we do need to move past it.

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