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— A Timely Look at Transactions as They Happen
Monday, February 09, 2009
Don’t Blame A-Rod
In 2004, Major League Baseball, under the terms of an agreement with the MLBPA, started instituting penalties for players that tested positive for certain drugs that were believed to be drug-enhancing.
25 years before, Major League Baseball also came to terms with the MLBPA on a drug-testing deal, though cocaine was the more worrisome issue in the eyes of the public. Unfortunately, Bowie Kuhn subsequently announced that he was the final authority for anything not specifically outlined in the drug-testing arrangement, forcing the union to opt out of the agreement at their earliest allowed juncture. Future commissioners further muddied the waters, ending any hopes for a new drug-testing agreement, most notably Fay Vincent, who attempted to circumvent the contract agreed to with the MLBPA and then taking the further, reprehensible step of actually threatening Gene Michael, Buck Showalter, and Jack Lawn in order to prevent them from testifying to the arbitrator. There simply was no reason for players to trust the owners at this point.
But are the owners to blame for the various performance-enhancing drugs used in baseball and other sports over the last 50 years? Nope.
Any blame, if there is blame to be distributed, should be pointed directly at how we, the fans, view athletic excellence.
We expect our athletes to be supermen. Hurt your hamstring and have to miss games? You’re a slacker and should get back into the game. Torn labrum? Stop being a sissy and bear it, Don Drysdale didn’t need no MRI! Stress fracture in your foot? Rub some dirt on it.
For fans, the belief has always been that athletic excellence is something that an athlete should risk everything for. Playing in pain, running into walls, brutal crushing tackles, are the currency of fandom’s love and abiding respect.
The famous Pete Rose-Ray Fosse collision in the 1970 All-Star Game provides a compelling example of this phenomenon. Played over and over again, fans bring this up as an example of hard-nosed play from Charlie Hustle. But the negative effects of that play still affect Ray Fosse. Nearly 40 years later, Fosse still has trouble lifting his arm on some days. His shoulder still occasionally throbs with the same pain he experienced constantly for years after that fracture.
Now, I’m not saying that Rose should have been disciplined or bears any fault for that, but it is an example of the mindset of fans as a whole that has caused players to risk their health to achieve excellence. After all, who cares if Pete Reiser runs into a wall to win games? Who cares if 20-year-reunions of NFL teams look like a pamphlet for the Americans with Disabilities Act? The circus is over and the gladiators have returned to wherever they were before.
Combine this attitude with society’s adoption of DuPont’s slogan of “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry” over the last half-century and you have a perfect storm in which athletes feel enormous societal pressure to take whatever they can, do whatever they can, to win.
Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are not the products of the 1990s. Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard was making injections derived from the testicles of guinea pigs in the 1800s. Babe Ruth injected himself with extractions derived from sheep testicles in the 1920s. The German army injected their soldiers with testosterone in order to improve battle performance. Dianabol, the first widely available anabolic steroid, was first developed by John Ziegler in 1958 as a performance-enhancing drug and was released to the public in 1962, when it immediately was adopted by athletes varying from lithe sprinters to bulky weightlifters.
I dare anyone to try to name an era in sports in the last in which any semblance of purity, now suddenly demanded by the public, actually existed. By all means, please direct us to this golden time where no currently banned performance-enhancing drugs were available, but went unused by the wholesome players of yesteryear. It’s certainly not the 80s or 90s or 2000s, when steroid use apparently came most popular. It certainly wasn’t the 60s and 70s, when players were distributing now-banned amphetamines and starting to experiment with steroids themselves. The only difference between a slugger in 1938 and a slugger in 2008 is the quality of the goodies he can get his hands on.
Until then, when you see A-Rod’s face appear on the screen, with an ESPN Talking Head, delivering a steroids screed from a soapbox of sanctimony and wonder who’s it fault, make sure to point at yourself, in the glare of the television. Fans demand athletes when to jump and the athletes simply heard the answer to “How high?”
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