Friday, January 4, 2008

Give Me Mediocrity, or Give Me 'Roid Rage!

There was a time when I was 7 or 8 years old when Roger Clemens was the athletic role model for young Boston sports fans. He was a great pitcher, a Cy Young award winner, and was admired by lots of fans both young and old. I can remember Roger being caricatured on the front of the funnies in the Boston Herald in a full page wall pin-up. My brother drooled over his very first Roger Clemens baseball card when he was just a tender 5 years old.

Not long after that, Mo Vaughn became one of my grandmother's favorite baseball players. I remember watching him hit home runs on the small 13" TV in my Nana's kitchen, all the while she would talk about how she had his rookie card (she was an avid baseball card collector). Little boys on Pee-wee and Little League teams around New England wanted to hit like Mo Vaughn and pitch like "The Rocket". They worked hard at practices and even said things like "OK, you pitch like Roger and I'll hit it out of the yard like Mo hits it out of the park".

When you're young, you never think that there is anything but pure athletic talent in the men and women you see on TV or in the ball parks and stadiums of the world. You develop a sort of admiration for them and then take your dreams and visions of your heroes to the Little League and Pop Warner fields of America. You go to health class and learn about steroids, and all the bad things that they can do to you. The thought goes through your impressionable 12 year-old mind: What woman wants to look and sound like a man, and what man wants to sacrifice their manhood for bigger muscles? Then you put yourself in a disillusion - My athletic heroes would never do something like that. They're just that good, they don't need these stupid drugs. The only people who take those are the people who want to be like my athletic heroes - but the heroes themselves, NO WAY!

I remember being about 17 or 18 when I first started hearing about Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds being accused of using steroids. Then a few years later Jose Canseco came out with his book "Juiced" and exposed many baseball players for their consistent steroid use. I was disgusted; here were two guys threatening to break home run records and they were juicers? What kind of an example was that setting for the other players, for their fans?

This last December, when the Mitchell Report on steroid use in the MLB was released, I couldn't help but take some time and look through it. Some of the names that appeared blew my mind, and I can only imagine what reading some of those names did to the parents of kids who look at these guys as heroes. How do you explain to your kid that Roger "Rocket" Clemens is now looked at as someone who didn't get to where he is on his God-given talent alone?

(Side note: Clemens trying to convince the world he didn't use steroids is the biggest load of crap ever. The guy who injected him had an MS in Sports Medicine. I'm sure he knew the difference between vitamins and hormones. That's like me going to get a manicure, someone noticing I got a manicure, and then seriously saying "No, my nails naturally grow in purple. I don't and never have gotten a manicure. What are you talking about?" See. That's silly.)

It's important to note that this phenomenon doesn't just apply to the MLB. Last summer, I was grossly disappointed when I heard that one of my favorite defensive players on the Patriots, Rodney Harrison, was found purchasing and using Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to recover from an injury. Anyone who's ever read North Dallas Forty also knows the part that drugs and steroids played in the NFL during the 70's. So it's not just one sport, and it's only a matter of time I think before we hear how rampant is really is in professional sports - even if we already suspect.

Here's the real question: Why? Why bother using steroids and HGH to get ahead when you know it's wrong?

Now before I get any further you need to understand that I fully appreciate and acknowledge that everyone has free will. A player, given the option to be awesome of his own accord and talent or attempt to improve his performance with performance-enhancing substances, has all the right in the world to make the decision on their own whether it's right, wrong, or indifferent. It's why God gave us free will. I also think that it's important to note that free will is also what caused us to get ourselves in trouble in the first place.

That said, no matter what decision is made I think that the motives behind it are similar with slight differences. The player who chooses to take the steriods wants to do so to better the team, become a better player, and to be the best that they can be for their fans. What do they risk? They risk their health - steroids have been found to do a number of things to a person's body. They risk their legal status - it is ILLEGAL to use steroids at all, let alone in professional sports. They risk their relationships - ever hear of 'roid rage? And while they may have it for a short period of time, if they're exposed as juicers they risk losing the respect of their fans and teammates who are against steroid use.

And why? To be a better individual player, to be a better team player, and to live up to the expectations their fans have of their performance. What do they gain? A lot of muscle, and maybe a record or two that ends up in the Baseball Hall of Fame with an astericks. Maybe an injury that seemed to have healed quicker, but not properly.

On the flipside, let's look at the player who decides to avoid taking any steroids or HGH. What do they risk? They risk passing their prime sooner. They risk not necessarily breaking any records. They risk maybe not necessarily being the super star.

And why? The same reasons with a slight difference - to be a better individual, to be a better team player, and to maintain the respect of their fans over the long run. What do they gain? They gain the knowledge that they did the right thing, and that no matter what happens their fans will never have the chance to turn their nose down on them. They don't risk losing their dignity or getting an astericks on any records they break, because they know they did it themselves.

Given my druthers, if I were a professional athlete - I'd choose option "B". Say no to 'roids, and risk being mediocre.

I leave you with this pondering: For those of you who knew Roger "Rocket" Clemens in the '80s and know how great he was when he was in Boston - are you questioning anything? Do you wonder if he was juicing while he was here? Do you wonder if maybe he did it so that he would always be the Great "Rocket" he was when he wasn't juicing, perpetually revisiting his glory days? And - do you wonder why he's trying so hard to deny the use now that it's public when no one else who was mentioned on the report is?


Dan said...

Forgive my comment which is way out in left field (pun not originally intended). The conundrum facing sports players reminds me very much of a personal pet peeve of mine: SUVs.

People give the legitimate argument that they are safer in an SUV than in a sedan. The reason they are safer, it turns out, is not that SUVs are inherently safer vehicles, but rather that when mass meets mass in a collision, they are likely to be in an accident with a vehicle less massive than there own. The law of conservation of momentum kicks in and their vehicle and bodies are less likely to experience damaging force.

So what they are doing is escalation (like the Cold War). SUV vs. SUV is no safer than Yaris vs. Yaris. Really. If everyone had reasonable cars, we would all be safer than if 1/3 of us had massive truck-based vehicles. The SUV driver's safety comes at the expense of their fellow driver.

Reading your blog entry reminded me of the worst interpersonal reason why steroid abuse is wrong. The abuser's success is at the expense of the player whose natural talent was on a par with the abuser. If no one took them, everyone's starting point would be the same, which is blatantly just.

~*SilverNeurotic*~ said...

I kind of feel that it's wrong that we put such an emphasis on professional sports and athletes...and that emphasis is a big reason why drug use is so rampant. Once these players have experienced life as a pro athlete...they won't want to just let it go easily, they'll put their life and careers in jeapordy to avoid being "average".