Steroids Should be Legal in Sports
BOTOX is legal for Actors… Autotune is legal for Musicians… Why must it be taboo for the athletic entertainers to enhance their performance and elongate their career? This article pertains to Baseball in particular.
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When people think of Baseball, they think of America’s favorite past time. It’s a clean, wholesome sport that the entire family can enjoy. The early versions of the game have been played on a professional level in this country for 140 years, dating back to 1870. However, something that was supposed to provide entertainment for America, took a turn for the worse when winning and money became the primary motivation of the players and owners. If you don’t do you part to help the team win, you are sent to the minors, or worse, thrown off the team. If you do your part, you are rewarded with a larger salary and a bonus. Everyone has their price, and for many players, it is not much.
Anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) are the vitamin of choice for most professional athletes, not just baseball players. Steroids, also known as Roids or Juice, are taken in liquid or pill form and are only traced through urine tests. They are proven to increase lean muscle mass, strength, and even stamina. These enhancements alone motivate players to use steroids in order to compete among their peers, even after their normal career cycle is over. The average major league baseball career is less than six years, which is why many players turn to steroid use. Steroids are one way to make sure that your career is longer than the norm and even more productive. While these drugs seem to be ideal for any player, they do come at a price.
Many users experience side effects that outweigh the benefits of the drugs. In the short term, a user should expect liver tumors, jaundice, fluid retention and high blood pressure, which are all serious medical conditions. Other side effects seen in males include shrinking of the testicles, infertility, reduced sperm count, baldness and even the development of breasts. The long term side effects are not as clear, since taking steroids for performance enhancement rather than treating anemia (as it was intended) is fairly new. Two long term effects that have emerged include heart conditions and psychological problems. The psychological problems are often referred to as “Roid Rage” and include irritability, jealousy and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility. Although none of these symptoms seem enjoyable, any discomfort one may experience is often negated by the multi-million dollar contact an athlete will sign.
It seems that any performance enhancing substances would be banned by the league; at least one would assume. However, performance enhancing drugs were not always illegal in baseball. In fact, it wasn’t until 1991 that Commissioner Vincent sent a memo to each team, announcing that steroids have been added to the list of banned substances. The players were given a warning, but there was no policy in place to test them – so the use continued. Unmonitored steroid use continued until 2004; at that time the league began to test players. The testing was random and the punishment for a first offense was counseling. The records were kept quiet and out of the public eye, so there was little to prevent players from using. In April 2005, Commissioner Selig asked players to agree to new terms of punishment and by November of that year, they agreed. The new punishments were a fifty game suspension for the first offense, one-hundred games for the second and a lifetime ban for the third. This was the first time that there was ever a punishment for using performance enhancing drugs. Fourteen years of warnings with no actions led to many players experimenting with different substances.
Since the substances are illegal in this country and in the sport, there is little statistical information about the players using since it is done in secrecy. There are many confirmations of which players have used but the timelines of when they started and stopped can be blurred. There have been accusations by confirmed steroid users that between twenty and eighty percent of active players are using every season. I personally feel that this number is inflated since the random drug testing results do not support any of these estimates. If they were accurate, there would be suspensions happening very often and there have only been a handful of suspensions in the past few years. I do feel that the athletes who choose to use performance enhancing drugs have the right to do so, and believe that the Commissioner should step aside and worry about running the league, not policing his players. In fact there are many reasons why these drugs should be allowed in baseball.
We must remember that this game was created for entertainment. No one wants to watch a great defensive game or a pitchers duel. Those two terms just describe a boring game with nothing interesting going on. The fans want to see larger than life players hitting homeruns each time they are at bat. The action of an explosive offense is what keeps the people entertained. In America, bigger is better! We, as a country, are infatuated with the staged wrestling on television but could not care less about the Olympic team actually competing. It is no coincidence that one has freakishly large men fighting and the other has smaller men trying to keep within in their weight class. People are not entertained by the latter because it is not over the top, and exciting, the way that we want it to be. Baseball needs steroids and huge homeruns to keep the game interesting. Most will call steroid use cheating however I think it is making the game more interesting.
Many healthcare providers will say that steroids are bad and there are health related issues associated with taking them. Yet, no one seems to complain about the other issues and activities that enhance other professionals’ talents. High fashion modeling is a very lucrative career. However, you will not be very successful unless you maintain an unhealthy weight. The models will maintain this weight using diet pills, starving them selves or binging then purging at every meal. These activities are frowned upon in public but encouraged behind closed doors. In the two instances, the professional is doing something dangerous to improve themselves and lengthen their career. If we are going to take away steroids for health reasons, we should also require that the players maintain a healthy weight, give up drinking and smoking/chewing tobacco as well.
Steroids, although they may shrink lifespan, will increase the length of the player’s career. When we examine players such a Barry Bonds and Andy Pettitte, it is apparent that both should have retired quite a few years ago due to their age. However each had great years in the latter of their careers, thanks to steroids. Barry Bonds went from never hitting more than 50 homeruns in a single season to hitting 71 and setting a new single season home run record. This was done in his late 30’s when he should have been in his inevitable demise. As for Andy Pettitte, he should have seen his career end with an injury. However, he used steroids to nurse his way back to health, and is still playing today. Both of these men owe it all to steroids, and by all, I mean their multi-million dollar contracts.
A comparable enhancement in another industry is the new craze, BOTOX. BOTOX is what an actor/actress will use to enhance their career and lengthen it. Yet this is not illegal. Both steroids and BOTOX are unhealthy yet give you a competitive advantage, later in your career, against your peers when looking for work. I see no difference between the two and think that the actors are correct. Steroids give you a competitive advantage and if others choose not to use it, it is their problem, not yours.
Additionally, steroid use should be legal since the Major League Baseball drug screening program is flawed. Testing only goes on during the season, which allows players to do cycles (of steroids) in the off season. Doing steroids straight through the season will optimize the results. However, doing cycles in preparation for the season and stopping during will improve the skills, just not as much. Another big problem with testing is that the players seem to always be ahead of the curve. Most of the players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs have not been punished since they were not doing anything wrong, since the substances players were using were legal at the time. The issue here is the lag between a steroid being introduced into the market and it being added to the banned list. The players and their trainers are very good at making sure that what the players are taking during the season is not on the list of banned items.
When it comes to steroids in baseball, I say “Why Not?” There is really no reason to have a ban. The game is meant to be played for entertainment, not prestige, so enhancing your skills should be encouraged, not frowned upon. There are health risks associated with steroid use, however there are everyday health risks players face both on and off the field. Since we do not monitor all of these other risks, what right do we have to monitor the players ‘vitamins’? The health risks are worth the reward of a long and lucrative career in the majors, which is every player’s ultimate goal. Most importantly, if the league can not monitor and punish the users correctly, they shouldn’t do it at all. In the words of my little league coach: “…Just let them play ball”