Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Performance Enhancing Embarrassment

I'm going to change directions just a bit and talk about what the sporting world seems to be talking about. In the wake of concerns about how performance-enhancing drugs seem to have transformed how baseball was played in the last decade-and-a-half or so, the Mitchell Report has thrown the baseball world into a tizzy.

Some people say that no one really cares about performance-enhancing drugs, but I don't think that's true. In fact, I think it's demonstrably false. A lot of people, including many in positions of considerable power within baseball, seem to care a lot. Rank and file fans seem to care a lot too.

Where were these fans who care so much when Barry Bonds' head was doubling in size? That's a good question, and I don't have an answer for it. Frankly, the steroid problem in baseball has been obvious for a long time.

The steroid problem throughout sports has been evident for a while. I even have on pretty good authority that college cheerleading squads had rampant steroid problems until they started testing more. When they started testing, the squads started doing a lot less aerial work from what I understand.

However, to me the Mitchell Report is much ado about nothing. The biggest names, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, are not accused of being rampant steroid users, or of remaking their bodies through performance-enhancing drugs. They are accused merely of using Human Growth Hormone for a short period of time to help recover from a specific injury. At least in Pettitte's case, the drug was not yet banned.

So, Pettitte and Clemens did not use the drug to prolong their careers, or to help beat out someone else for a roster spot, or to convert a mediocre career into an all-star career. That, to me, is the real sin of steroid use. Using steroids to alter how you play the game and to make you a more desirable player (Bonds, Barry) is what initially made this such a big deal. People don't like that steroids have so greatly affected how the game of baseball is played, and affected who is actually playing it.

But now we're getting into new territory. Buster Olney reported that a lot of Hall of Fame voters won't vote for Roger Clemens because of his connection to HGH. I think that's a shame, not because steroids isn't such a big problem, but simply because this is not a Barry Bonds-like case.

Barry Bonds is the poster-child for unsportsmanlike, irresponsible, and illegitimate usage of steroids to alter a career. He apparently used steroids on a near-constant basis for years in order to transform himself from a player with good power to a player with awesome power, breaking hallowed records left and right. He is the epitome of what the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs can do. It can shift the balance of power in the sport, and can turn the merely good into the great, and the ordinary great into the immortal great. Barry Bonds was an excellent player, on his way to a Hall of Fame career, before steroids. But steroids made him into the most feared hitter in the game, a Babe Ruth for the new century.

Clemens and Pettitte are different. They used HGH not to alter how the game was played, but to get themselves into the game a little bit earlier than they would have been in it otherwise. Their use of HGH hasn't altered record books, extended their careers, or made them significantly wealthier than they would be otherwise. It just got them on the field quicker following injury than they would have been otherwise. Is it fair to the AAA guy the Yankees brought up to replace them? Probably not, but it's still not anything close to what Bonds and others have done.

I don't see any great need to have a hard-and-fast rule of "steroids [or HGH] means no Hall of Fame" as Buster Olney described. Not all steroid/HGH use is the same, or even close to the same. It would behoove the sports world to approach this issue with a little bit more of an eye for subtlety and degree of wrongdoing.

And by the way, don't be surprised if the college football world is shown at some point to have rampant steroid use in its ranks. I don't have any specific information about this, just a gut feeling. It's sort of a "where there's smoke, there's fire" thing.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Most athletes today are using homeopathic growth hormone oral spray. It's legal for over the counter sales and is very gentle on the system.