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.

7 Responses to “Make Steroids Legal?”

  1. I’m part of the “legalize it” camp, but I believe my reasoning is much more rational. If you’re interested in reading my takes on it:

    Your article was well-written and I disagree with it, obviously, but more than that, I believe you are making some small leaps in logic that misconstrues the situation.

    If you’d like to discuss this further, let me know. I don’t know how you feel about having long-winded retorts on your blog, ha ha. I’m very wordy.

  2. Sarah Green says:

    We don’t mind long-winded rebuttals, as long as YOU don’t mind getting a long-winded counter-rebuttal in return!

    The points you make on crashburnalley are good ones, and I agree with your general sentiments about the pharmaceutical industry. I have to disagree, however, with your use of the slippery slope argument (ie, do you draw the line at amphetamines or at coffee? Do you draw the line at steroids or cortisone shots? Glasses or Lasik?). For me, an “unfair advantage” in baseball is sort of like Potter Stewart’s old definition of porn: “I know it when I see it.” In other words, if it feels like cheating, it probably is. Somehow, a protein shake doesn’t feel like cheating, but injecting anabolic steroids into one’s ass does. And if getting steroids out of the game means getting rid of cortisone shots, too? That’s fine with me. Never liked the stuff. One thing that confused me is that you seem to switch back and forth between saying steroids are healthy, and thus they should be legalized, and saying that the legal drug cortisone is unhealthy, which somehow proves that other steroids should be legal too. First, admitting that cortisone is unhealthy seems to contradict your earlier statements about steroids being healthy, and second, if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make more sense, for both cortisone and other PEDs to all be banned, instead of all legalized?

  3. I think what makes this a weird call for me is that steroids do have some role in rehab training and recovery processes from all kinds of injuries. Its how their managed that can go bad.

    Are we looking at the wrong problem by looking at what substances should be outlawed rather than the method or provider? What if there was a dosing limit, or only certain persons could provide it (and therefore monitor), or the use had to be recorded?

    I would say the biggest problem I have with the whole thing is the fact that these chemicals were so easily available, and that the team physicians sat around bickering with each other about it rather than taking action to protect the health and well-being of the athletes.

    I also don’t think the slippery-slope argument works well here–I’m generally opposed to it just because its not useful at all. It’s like people saying gay marriage will lead down a slippery slope to people marrying animals. It’s absurd, and there’s no actual evidence backing up the claim, it’s just shifting categories around.

    That being said, this is a topic that asks us to constantly re-evaluate our stance. This is true for all of medicine–all the technological advances require constant reassessment of ethical boundaries and humanitarian considerations.

    The use of PEDs without medical causes is cheating, in my opinion. Period. But neither ban-it-all and legalize-it policies will do what we want them to. We need to:
    1) clarify and standardize treatment guidelines that include steroids if not other substances as well (i.e., painkillers) and prioritize the health of the players and the professional discretion of medical providers;
    2) empower MLB’s physicians and trainers to both self-regulate on the use of PEDs and intervene effectively and with discretion with players seen as possible users, including lots and lots of education and training on their part;
    3) deal with aging. Look, in spite of popular consensus, aging is not optional, athlete or not. Athletes will need to retire at a younger age than they may be comfortable with. There needs to be some kind of acknowledgment and response to an age-related decline in performance. Why do these guys so desperately need to keep playing? Is there any way to support them at the end of their career that will keep them from reaching a critical point where they turn to PEDs?
    4) Make more people accountable. Should Theo be reprimanded for knowingly trading for guys on juice? (Hate the thought, but I’m also pissed at him). As it is, the players and players alone take the hit. Let’s make the coaches, GMs, trainers, and MDs responsible for staying on top of this stuff.

    Most importantly, however, we need to:
    5) change our attitude. We are so focused on whether or how to punish people who did use we’re overlooking the fact that the problem appears to be generational, and we have an opportunity to keep the younger players from using as they get older. Let’s think prevention. Drug abuse of any kind is best handled by preventing it happening in the first place–another reason to restrict therapeutic steroid use–no need to show everyone how well steroids really work. But seriously.

    Obviously, these are tall orders. But if a fuss is being raised, let’s at least make it worth it in the end. They’re not going to change the way business is done, players are bought and sold or how they’re priced and paid. But I honestly think we can do something without actually regulating the substances themselves.

  4. This may actually be the most intelligent conversation we’ve had here on UmpBump. Yes, even more so than who deserves a Douchie award. So that’s saying something.

    I’m not going to try and inject my own opinions here because I’m not quite sure I can do any better than what’s already been said. But I do have some questions:

    1. Why is it that after all this time and all these news stories that I STILL don’t have a great grasp on to what extent things like anabolics and HGHs have a negative effect on the human body? Sure, we can point to guys like Caminiti, but that guy did just about everything wrong to himself.

    2. Why do we continue to lump together steroids and HGH? They’re two different things that serve two different purposes and have two different effects to two different degrees.

    3. If MLB began running paid ads explaining the negative effects of the use of such drugs, would it have any effect? Would it just seem hypocritical? Why should MLB do this if the other sports organizations don’t do their share?

    I honestly don’t know how we should proceed as fans and I haven’t the faintest idea as to how MLB can proceed. There are a lot of factors at play here that us as outsiders may never get to consider. But Margaret is absolutely right when she says that if we’re going to make such a big deal out of this, something needs to come of it.

  5. Paul–

    As for #1, the problem is that we aren’t entirely certain what can happen. The research isn’t entirely there. The sexual and reproductive side effects are well known, and not really something to brush aside lightly.

    Chances are, if hormones can cause a problem, steroids will put you at risk: various cancers, mood disorders, that sort of thing. It can interfere with your body’s ability to produce insulin and other good stuff.

    What do know is that it can lead to SERIOUS cardiovascular problems–high blood pressure and cholesterol, for starters, and going all the way into heart failure and a thickening of specific cardiac muscle (as you might expect)… I would say this is where the damage is most pronounced. Your heart is a muscle and if you mess around with muscle tissue production and maintenance… it’s bad.

    Also, because steroids and other hormones are metabolized in the liver. When tons of steroids need to be metabolized over time it causes extensive liver damage. Again, this is very bad news.

    So I’ll be the first to say I can’t prove that there are significant long-term problems from steroid use. BUT, knowing what I do about the human body and about the biochemistry involved, the theoretical picture is pretty serious.

    #2–HGH is weird. I hate even calling it a PED because really, there’s no evidence that it enhances performance whatsoever. It is interesting to point out that HGH is also being marketed to people freaking out about aging as some sort of perpetual youth magic.

    I’m on the fence about HGH. Does it concern me? Yes, very much–I don’t like extraneous medications and supplements as a rule, and to muck around with hormones of all things is a particularly dangerous game–but the damage isn’t clear as it is with steroids.

    Medically, they are in very different categories, but I think what grouping them together does is take the focus away from the technicalities and place them on the ethics of taking these drugs. What matters in these broader terms is that the players intentionally took drugs they believed would put them at an advantage over other players, not that they put themselves at significant risk.

    Whether that categorization is appropriate, I don’t know.

    #3–nope, wouldn’t work. I’ve studied public health marketing like that. Such campaigns don’t work well for what is paid for them. When the tobacco companies made that kind of ad as a requirement for their settlement, it just looked like a pathetic attempt to placate the public while allowing the company to continue doing whatever they please, which, to be fair, was exactly what the whole thing was.

    I’d rather have the MLB do nothing than air a bunch of ads. Really. I don’t want to give them the chance to respond that OF COURSE they care about steroids, just look at the ads they put out! In addition, ads about steroids are still ads for MLB.

    I think change on this issue is going to take pain. Ads are ads, and ads are good for MLB. What MLB needs to do though is bite down and take some hits for what they’ve created and rebuild. It won’t be easy but I think its the only way.

    If you need more info on health effects, btw, let me know and I can provide. There’s a lot of rumors out there about steroids on both sides, so I appreciate it when people admit straight out they don’t know.

  6. Logan Strait says:

    Let’s face it, people don’t watch baseball because they want to know who’s the best. It’s no concern of yours!!!!!! People watch baseball to be entertained. What’s more entertaining? A single? of, a GRAND SLAM? I have never stood up and let out a SF Giants rebel yell because of a single or a double (maybe a triple if it scored a run). I get excited over a Home Run! I have honestly not enjoyed baseball since Barry Bonds got caught. And that’s really what sports are all about, isn’t it?

  7. Make steroids legal? It is not a good idea because we could truly loss the sense of a real sportsmanship, don’t you think?

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