Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Case for Steroids In Sports

By Matt Hurst

At what point does the public stop caring about headlines?

Look at almost any news cycle – be it in sports, or news or entertainment. There is the immediate interest, the follow-up reporting to keep you hooked, a resolution and then we’re on to the next one.

Whether it is constant wars and militant uprisings in the Middle East or parts of Africa, school shootings in the U.S., the latest with Britney Spears or a fake dead girlfriend, at some point we stop caring about the splashy headlines because there’s going to be something else to attract our attention.

That’s where we are with performance-enhancing drugs.
On Tuesday there were not one, but two PED-related stories that came out within hours of each other and momentarily drew some attention on Twitter and online. Yet seeing another set of athletes involved in a steroid scandal is no longer interesting or revolting. It’s become far too common and at this point it’s too easy to believe everything (deer antler spray barely registered a blip, right?), shrug your shoulders and assume that the majority of professional athletes in any sport are juiced.

And why wouldn’t they be?

The penalties are far too light – even baseball’s – for the athletes not to take risks and why would they give a damn if they get caught? They still get paid. The juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
Then it’s always a three-part process:

1. Deny steroid claims; discuss how hard you work out and that you’ve never tested positive.
2. Go into hiding as evidence builds; repeat step one in any interview.
3. Come clean; apologize, knowing the public will forgive you.
Part 3 of the PED Process.

Rather than feign anger or act surprised, as fans we should stop caring about steroid use.  Whatever rules are in place to prevent steroid use and clean up a sport, those who want to cheat will do so. They will find ways around it. Just think about how long it would take you, right now, to get a bag of marijuana, which is illegal in 48 states. And you’re probably devoid of any hook-ups or insider secrets that these athletes have in getting PEDs.

So let’s treat sports as what they are at the highest levels – entertainment.

Going to a game is like going to the movies. You pay for a ticket and hope to be entertained for a few hours. Vince McMahon runs a very successful empire on ‘roided up entertainment. Instead of creating the XFL, he should have created the SSL – Steroid Sports Leagues.

Tell me you wouldn’t want to watch players who are as juiced as possible doing amazing things in a sport. This would pull the cover off of everything. Strangely enough, it would legitimatize records and accomplishments because there would be a clear separation.

(Quick tangent – for those who are ever worried about records, then you’re not thinking to the times when baseball was segregated, when football didn’t emphasize the forward pass – or if they did, then the rules in place to accompany it – or when basketball didn’t have three-point lines. The game changes, folks.)
You mean a guy can play a punishing sport for 17 years,
be dominant in it, tear his triceps, come back
in the same season and we are supposed to believe he's clean?

We already don’t care that football players are using performance-enhancing drugs the way kids go through a bag of Skittles. Think about it – we don’t care whenever an NFL player gets popped for PED’s and is given a four-game suspension. It barely registers, something that’s in the agate part of the Sports section. There has never been a star busted in the NFL for steroid use, leading one to believe that the most powerful league in sports uses mediocre players as sacrificial lambs, suspending these lesser players to claim the league cares about this issue, likely hiding positive tests from the stars. Because, really, who would miss a third-string middle linebacker vs. a starting quarterback?

Look around the NBA – you really think that league is clean? And while there isn’t a regular test for human growth hormone, a pro athlete would be foolish not to use it during a long season and after working out to stay as fresh as possible.

The solution is not to make more rules and more tests, but to allow all professional athletes to use performance enhancers.

Of course, there is a trickle down effect based on this and here’s how to assure that youths, college athletes and minor leaguers don’t use, too. Put all the efforts of drug testing into the lower levels. Make it as clean as possible. Enforce a one-and-done policy where if you get caught, you’re banned for life. That way when someone makes it to the upper echelon, they did it on pure talent. Now, feel free to juice up and do things the human body wasn’t designed to.
It's all entertainment, right?

As fans, we’ll grab our popcorn and be entertained. If we want a clean version, we can watch college sports or the minor leagues. If we want to witness freaks of nature – once a compliment of a player and now a legitimate term – we’ll tune in.

As Maximus shouted in Gladiator: “Are you not entertained?”