The time for knee-jerk reactions to the Mitchell report has passed. The time to play devil’s advocate—whether said devil deserves an advocate or not—has arrived. After all, every week must have a new storyline. In this installment of our post-Mitchell report coverage, I’ll take a look at the arguments for legalizing steroid use in baseball.
It became trendy, when the steroid whispers started, to act like it didn’t matter. “Why not take steroids?” these cutting-edge pundits said, “It only increases the entertainment value of the game!” The make-steroids-legal argument has really come out into the open, though, since the Mitchell report became public last week.
At Jon Swift, an apparently satirical blog, they even compared using steroids with the second amendment:
The real problem is that baseball banned steroids in the first place. It is a fact that when you ban guns, only criminals have guns. The same is true with steroids. When steroids are banned, only cheaters will have steroids…Distributing guns to everyone and requiring everyone in the community to know how to shoot levels the playing field and gives everyone a fighting chance against criminals. In the same way distributing steroids to all baseball players and requiring every player to take them would level the baseball playing field and give everyone a fair chance to compete.
It’s a good thing Jon Swift is meant to be funny…because requiring any human being to inject themselves with any substance—and especially, in this case, ones that have been demonstrated to cause serious physical and mental problems, including heart problems—is obviously fascist. (And in fact, the communist-fascists in East Germany did require their Olympic athletes to do just that.)
But, to my mind, making steroids legal would have the same effect as requiring all athletes to take them. Even now, any athlete who doesn’t take them is basically consigning himself to a serious disadvantage and leaving millions of dollars on the table. But at least the clean athlete knows he’s not cheating. He’s not risking his health. He’s not risking his credibility or jeopardizing the integrity of the game. If steroids were made legal, all that would change.
Some people say that steroids, like any forbidden drug, would be safer if they were legalized. Look, this isn’t a case of cancer patients growing weed in their basements. These athletes are already perfectly healthy. It is true that messing around with controlled substances under a doctor’s care is safer than squeezing into a bathroom stall with Jose Canseco and a syringe. But that still doesn’t make it safe. And since using steroids is all about getting an edge, I contend that there would still be a thriving black market of all the newest, latest, hottest performance enhancers. After all, if everyone starts using Deca or Winstrol, what’s the point of using them at all? You’d have to find something else, something new and improved if you wanted to keep your edge. The FDA couldn’t keep up.
Some folks say that steroids—like stealing signs or scuffing the ball—are just another way of giving 110%. Isn’t doing anything and everything to win just part of the American way? I can only assume these people are Ayn Rand-addicted psychos who think insider trading and price fixing are okay and believe that Tonya Harding should have been allowed to kneecap however many opponents she wanted to.
Still others point out that sports are, after all, just a form of entertainment. And doesn’t using performance-enhancing drugs make sport more entertaining? Don’t we all want to see everything bigger, better, faster, more? First, considering the health risks associated with steroids, I find this attitude unbelievably callous. For instance, pro wrestling is extremely comfortable with its status as entertainment, and pro wrestlers are some of the most obvious steroid users. Pro wrestlers also die of heart disease at a rate 12 times the average for Americans their age. This isn’t Xbox. This is real. These athletes are real people, people with families. Expecting them to risk their health, even their lives, just for your titillation? That’s cold.
And maybe the casual fan needs 70 450-foot homers a season to keep himself entertained, but not all of us do. Some of us are more excited by a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play, a suicide squeeze, a double steal, a triple play, or the hidden ball trick. Some of us are interested in the strategy that goes into pitch selection, the skill needed to be a truly dangerous baserunner, or the deception of a surprise bunt. And for some of us, it’s not about the highlight reels. It’s about the crack of the bat and the pop of the mitt. It’s about blue skies, good friends, and flat beer. It’s about history, and knowing that David Ortiz is playing the same game Ted Williams played. And when an old record is surpassed, you know that the player who surpassed it has accomplished something meaningful. Remember, baseball is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, anyone could do it. It’s the hard that makes it great. Legal or illegal, steroids make baseball easier. And in so doing, steroids make baseball that much smaller.