This whole A-Rod has forced anew the issue of steroid use in professional sports, a debate I personally find as fascinating and multifaceted as it is utterly unresolveable.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that I’m a Yankees fan, and maintain it was virtually impossible to live in New York in 1998 without so being. I haven’t followed them since they traded for Clemens, however, which I’m sure has been devastating for them.)
Back to steroids, and now with a clear conscience. Far from being an apologist for steroid users (I hate the idea of anyone doing a drug that’s no fun), I personally don’t really know where I stand on this. Granted, there are the facts: (1) Steroids have been banned by MLB for just ever. Anyone who doesn’t know that is an idiot. (2) Even alleged idiot A-Rod knew that when he tested positive. (3) The rules didn’t require the positive test to have any real consequences. Finished, right? Of course not! Were it not for things like this to debate in bars, what would we have? The relative quality of Ol’ Grandad to Kentucky Tavern? (And yes, that was a jab at the crappy economy hitting us where we hurt: what whiskey we can afford)
The letter of the steroid prohibition (as it was chronicled on Wikipedia, at least, so you know it’s true!) lists a metric ton of substances, mandates testing for said substances, and lists the penalties for ignoring the ban. It’s all pretty clear, and famous enough that all the athletes to whom it applies could probably recite it by heart.
Looking at the spirit of the prohibition is where I think it gets interesting: What actually constitutes cheating? And why do steroids qualify? Anabolic steroid use is linked to quicker healing, increased lean muscle mass, and increased ability to train harder and faster, right? And that’s cheating, since you’re not starting out on a level playing field.
Not to get too Clintonian about this, but it’s the definition of “level” I find interesting. The men in question are already prone to athletic prowess by virtue of their luck in the gene pool. They are already predisposed to be faster, stronger, more competetive, and possessing of more endurance than your average bear. But the miracle of their innate physical talents isn’t cheating, of course, since it was innate and inadvertent, right?
What if there were a gene therapy that could splice in super-healing and super-strong tendencies to a nascent fetus? Would that intentional manipulation of abilities still be considered cheating? What about two athletes who couple in the hopes of producing another athletically-gifted human being? You may think I’m being facile in this argument, but I think it’s a valid question.
Of course the situation gets much trickier when you add in what the punishment should be. Extrication from the Hall of Fame? The much-belabored asterisk next to any record under question? And then do you include asterisks for the records made before MLB was integrated, or before the intentional walk was allowed, or what have you?
I can’t figure it all out tonight. I’m just gonna hang with my daughter.