Sad Lessons from the Steroid Era

In college I took a class on nuclear disarmament and our professor was an advocate of it. In that class, we had to write one paper for our grade in the course. I argued that disarmament was a noble cause, yet it was an impossibility because the knowledge to build a nuclear weapon would never go away. You can eliminate the bomb, but you cannot eliminate knowledge of how to build one. The professor disagreed with me and I got a C+ on my paper and in the course.

I believe there is a similarity between nuclear disarmament and the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in sport. As I sat there and watched Mark McGwire cry yesterday, I started to think that we are all becoming desensitized to the whole situation. Do you remember when ESPN first began reporting on sport related people getting DUI’s and being caught with illicit drugs in the early 1990’s? I do. Athletes were ridiculed and viewed in a similar fashion as today’s steroid admitters. How terrible it used to be when an athlete got busted driving under the influence, now it is a 10 second story and on to the next one. Even though Gilbert Arenas did a very stupid thing, his conduct is being overshadowed by Mark McGwire today, and then something else tomorrow. We all know how short the public’s memory is…How many more players and how many more admissions will it take until steroid and PED use becomes a 10-second blurb in then news? How long will it take for all of us to be desensitized to illicit PED use in sport?

The sad thing to me is, that I believe, despite all of the wonderful anti-steroid and PED use messages, the young athlete of today views all of this from a very different lens. What is most striking to me about PEDs is that they work. Even though I took graduate level multivariate statistics courses, one does not have to be schooled In Sabermatics to see the glaring discrepancy between the number of homeruns and the distance of them before and after steroid testing. Athletes who used to play 155-162 games a year before drug testing could not play at that pace over the past few years. Just ask Mark McGwire. Hell, I think the banning of Amphetemines had the same impact on the game as did the testing for steroid and other PED use. McGwire discussed his desire to get healthy again and to repair his aging and broken down body. He was able to do this, make millions of dollars in the process, change the complexion of the game of baseball into one of sheer power over skill and took us all on a false and misleading road in the Summer of 1998. To me, there is no difference between anyone in professional baseball associated with steroids and PEDS and the Wall Street executives who defrauded millions of hard working Americans out of their 401k’s and retirement plans, during the recent economic crisis.

Everyone knows that, in the end, it is what the kids think, that matters. I feel terrible in saying what I am about to say, but I believe it to be the truth. I believe that the up-and-coming talented athlete of today is becoming desensitized to all of the illicit PED talk. They see people complain and discuss the moral, ethical and legal implications, yet most of these athletes only receive public scorn and a black eye on their legacy. In about one to two years, most will remember the athletes’ indiscretions, yet they will be placed in their proper historical perspective as time passes and the immediacy of the situation has passed. Roberto Alomar is an excellent example of this, as his not being elected into baseball’s hall of fame had more to do with his spitting in an umpires eye than it did on him as a person or his ability to play the game. Nobody has mentioned this as a reason why Alomar did not make the hall, but I bet this is what held him back one year. And, as soon as Tiger Woods wins another Major, all of his sponsors will come flooding back to him.

Kids do not understand the concept of legacy, as they are too busy being consumed in creating one of their own. What is going to stop a young athlete from attempting to use steroids and other PED’s if nobody will know or test for them? They see athletes, after the fact, admitting to using them, yet they see individuals who also had great athletic careers, made a ton of money and had great experiences. All because they cheated. “Well, they got away with it, why can’t I?” is what I think some kids learn out of this. With greater testing at the higher levels of sport, I am concerned that there will be a trickle-down effect on steroid and PED use, to levels of sport where it is not being tested for. What this means in all sports, is that the risk of athletes using these types of drugs at lower levels and at younger ages can possibly increase because there is little or no testing. The one universal truth in illegal PED use in sport, is that the cheaters are ahead of the testers and cheaters find a way to skirt the system and rules.

The implications of this are tremendous. With all of the anti-steroid advertisements, programs and discussion about the use of PED’s, is the message being lost and drowned out by those who admitted using it to achieve great athletic endeavors? Is their remorse, humanization of the problem and apologies deflecting the real damage done by them? Nobody is erasing Mark McGwire’s records from the record book. Many will look back at the Summer of 1998 with great love and admiration, as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both led us in believing in the Ponzie Scheme called MLB baseball. Their numbers still stand. They are glaringly different than those who came before them and those who are currently hitting a lot of home runs in the big leagues. Will anyone hit over 70 home runs in a year without performance enhancing drugs? I don’t know that, but I just hope some kid out there isn’t plotting the course for that now.

3 Responses to “Sad Lessons from the Steroid Era”

  1. 1 AHNaylor January 13, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    For further thoughts on the philosophical side of Doc Gardner’s post track down W. Miller Brown’s ( paper Paternalism, drugs, and the nature of sports” from the Olympic Scientific Congress in 1984. An interesting read that gets you thinking and perhaps understanding the steroid/doping era of the past decade(s). Brown would have given Dr. Gardner an “A” on that paper!

  2. 2 Clarence Gaines January 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I bet you’re still mad about that C+ grade and paper.

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