What’s so Bad About Performance Enhancing Drugs?

As early as today, Major League Baseball is going to hand out a significant amount of serious suspensions for high-profile players who probably/definitely took performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to make themselves better baseball players. I can’t say I’m a true baseball expert, but to me, it seems like this is the most important moment in a long period of baseball and something that will ultimately have a lot to say about Bud Seligs’s tenure as commissioner.

Did you see how easy that was? Did you see how I took something that was happening today and turned it into something that has been happening for decades to magnify the importance? Did you see how I took an important news story and hyperbolically blew it into a “legacy” story to give myself something gloriously important to write about? Did you see how easy it was to overreact? This is exactly what I hate about PED coverage. We find something not to like and blow it up into an enormously overwhelming mega-sin that can never be righted.

Meet Alex Rodriguez, the only person to ever take drugs to play sports better.

Meet Alex Rodriguez, the only person to ever take drugs to play sports better.

Let me start this post with a brief recap of my stance on baseball’s PED issues: I don’t care. I wish more players took steroids. I wish every player was pumped full of juice before every game, or if possible, every at-bat. I like 400-foot home runs. You know what I like more? 500-foot home runs. I like 95-mph fastballs. You know what I like more? 102-mph fastballs. You see where I’m going with this: whatever it is that you like about sports, PEDs just give you more of it. I genuinely don’t understand the outrage.

Of course, today we will be barraged with stories about legacies. How will Alex Rodriguez be remembered? Can we bring Barry Bonds back into the conversation? Remember when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit all those home runs? Selective outrage will be on the menu everywhere. The PED era will be called “a dark day” in MLB history. Personal miscalculations will be transformed into grievous crimes against humanity. I’m positive that exaggeration will be the name of the game, but what exactly is being exaggerated? I honestly don’t understand what is even the tiniest bit of wrong with athletes taking PEDs.

Why are we supposed to be opposed to baseball players taking steroids? Because it doesn’t make the game fair? Well I’ve got news for you, sweetheart: sports aren’t fair. Are we really going to point the finger at all these modern stars who juiced and act like this is a recent phenomenon? Just because baseball began testing for steroids usage in 2003 doesn’t mean that all the players until then were innocent. The “clean home run king” Hank Aaron admitted to using amphetamines or “greenies,” but no one really cares because everyone used them. We don’t give todays players the same benefit of the doubt. Apparently, the “everyone is doing it” argument is valid for the greenies period, but not the steroids era.

As far as I know, amphetamines were legal substances to consume by both MLB rules and American law, so I can kind of understand the lack of outrage. Why doesn’t anyone make a big deal of the history of cocaine use in the Majors, that’s something that’s authentically illegal. Can anyone name a major leaguer whose “legacy” was using amphetamines or cocaine? I’m willing to bet you can’t.

Are we supposed to think that these athletes are all just regular guys without any advantage? Are we supposed to think that they’re not genetic lottery winners with years of with coaching and strength training provided by a multi-billion-dollar industry?

I want to see the most exciting baseball. I don’t need to trick myself into the willfully ignorant pretense that all these guys are playing clean to do so. Anyone who thinks that cheating in a 200-year-old sport has only gone on for a decade or so is lying to himself.

Are we supposed to be upset that PED usage might shorten the lifespan for these players? It sounds cynical, but not a lot of people care what happens to PED users after their days in the majors. I’m sure a year of human life is normally quantified in the “priceless” category, but all what we’re learning from repeated public decisions to juice is that the real value is less than one season of MLB contract money.

Asterisk or not, he made the game more exciting for everyone.

Asterisk or not, he made the game more exciting for everyone.

Are we going to pretend that a generation of children will have their innocence ruined because the athletes that they look up to break the rules? That seems like a serious misunderstanding of what Major League Baseball is. It’s not Major League Parenting. Sure, there are great examples of pro athletes who have positively impacted the lives of children through the platform of athletic celebrity, but it’s completely unreasonable to expect MLB players (who earn that position exclusively on physical ability) to assume responsibility for a generation of kids they’ll never meet. It’s nice to preserve the stigma of childhood purity, but it’s insane to put the blame for the end of innocence on pro athletes instead of actual family members, teachers and community members.

These guys aren’t really criminals, they just took advantage of a way to do their job better. If someone told me about a blog platform that would tag and link itself and source images for me, I’d start using it. If there was an easy way to improve job performance, we’d all take it. These steroid-popping athletes aren’t just trying to break records and make money, they like doing their job better. Who doesn’t?

In fact, the same people that make superheroes out of Ryan Braun and A-Rod breaking records will be the first ones to throw all of the blame on those guys when they test positive for PEDs. I understand that sports writers have to find stories to write, but I find it to be blatantly hypocritical that the people who make a living building artificial shrines to athletes are the fist ones to heap mountains of shame on them when the glory turns out to be earned unfairly.

I just don’t get it. I don’t know why these players are so villainous. I don’t know why it’s so awful that baseball players take PEDs. Sure, it changes the game, but so did the the designated hitter, the introduction of African-American players, the five-man rotation, instant replay and the hard plastic helmet. Maybe PEDs are just the next evolution in the game.

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