This steroid argument is giving me hemaroids…

I’ve been engaged in about a half-dozen running arguments with people both online and in meatlife about the leaks from the BALCO Grand Jury Hearings. Far too many people are far too eager to kick Barry Bonds in the nads over this. And while I’m thrilled to see Jason Giambi eat hot death over his HGH and steroid admissions, ultimately I couldn’t care less.

I’ve tried to be articulate about the whole thing on my own and had varied success. Then I ran across the following article written by Simon Eassom and discovered that he says what I’ve been thinking more articulately and more concisely than I’m capable of, so here goes…

Should Steroids Be Banned?
Simon Eassom

I’m not going to talk about drugs. Instead, I am going to refer to Performance Enhancing Technologies (PETs) for three reasons. First, the word “drug” has so many connotations – including associations with addiction, illegality, and crime – that the issue of drug use in sport is obfuscated by an immediate negative attitude towards drug culture. Second, I want to ask whether the use of drug use in baseball in principle is wrong. Third, pets are nice!

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the chemical substances (stimulants such as ephedrine and steroids such as nandralone) and biological procedures (such as blood doping or gene therapy) used to enhance performance are legal, safe and freely available (many of the banned substances on the International Olympic Committee’s list are all three). Are there any good reasons why they shouldn’t be used in a sport such as baseball? In other words, before we get side-tracked by such considerations as to whether or not the acceptance of drug use in baseball coerces children into harmful or illegal practices, let’s consider whether or not there’s anything wrong in essence with certain PETs.

In any sport, the rules limit the mans by which a participant can achieve the goal of the game. These rules tend to define the sport by establishing its constituent components and setting its procedural standards. Baseball is baseball because it is a game played with a ball, pitched to a player with a bat who, after hitting the ball, tries to run around the bases without being tagged. In theory, the number of bases could be greater or fewer than at present, the number of players on the team could be increased or decrease, the size of the ball could be different, the number of strikes before you’re out altered, and so on. the specifics are really a matter of culture and tradition and they could be altered to a certain degree without changing the essence of the game of baseball. In fact, there are a very large (but probably finite) number of potential formats of the game that could all meaningfully be called baseball. We
just happened to have settled on a particular version we like and this is the standard. Why change it?

Within these parameters it is perfectly reasonable to try to achieve the goals of baseball as efficiently as possible with as much success as possible: to hit the ball more often, harder, further, to pitch the ball faster, etc. These things can be achieved by new technologies, theoretically, in two kinds of ways: by changing the means by which they are achieved or by improving the efficiency with which the means are applied. Let’s call these two kinds of technology aids and enhancers. In the former case (technological aids), the size and shape and fabric of the bat could be changed to make hitting and hitting further easier to achieve. The pitcher could use a sling or even some sort of firing device like a canon. Catchers could wear gloves with large nets attached, and so on. But, you might protest, these technologies applied to aid performance might not be desirable because they tend to de-skill the activity – they change it for the worse because they make it harder to distinguish between the better and worse players and teams.

In the latter case, technologies can be applied to improve the way things are already done. technology can be used that helps the hitter see pitches better, new techniques of pitching can be developed using biomechanical modeling, new materials can be used in the manufacture of gloves, the swing weight and balance of the bat can be altered to enable the hitter to swing faster. In each case, these technologies enhance the performance but do not necessarily de-skill the game. the pitcher still has to pitch, the hitter still needs to anticipate the pitch and demonstrate tremendous hand-eye coordination to hit the ball. It is a perfectly reasonable ethic of competitive professional sport to try to improve performance. Not only do these technologies enhance the performance, they enhance the game. We all like to watch big hitters going yard and pitchers striking out sluggers.

Substances such as steroids, used by players to bulk up muscle mass, increase strength, and thereby increase swing speed are performance-enhancing technologies just like relaxation techniques, mental rehearsals, diets, batting cages, video-replays, and weight-training sessions. they don’t de-skill or re-skill the activity. they don’t make the bat bigger, the pitch slower or the outfield smaller. They are not like Popeye’s spinach. But, they make for more excitement. It made no difference to my enjoyment watching Mark McGwire break Roger Maris’s thirty-seven-year-old home-run record in 1998 knowing that McGwire trained using androstenedione.

What we allow or disallow in the satisfaction of our thirst for more exciting and spectacular baseball games is a matter of taste, not morality (of aesthetics, no ethics). there’s nothing wrong (in principle) with the use of steroids to enhance performance. Their use is no more “unnatural” than many other practices we freely condone. they do not alter the game or destroy its integrity. Ban them because you don’t like them, but you won’t find reasons inherent in what baseball actually is that make their use inherently wrong.

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