The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Friday, December 14, 2007

(Has it been awhile? Yeah, it's been awhile. I got Kirchhoff beat by two months though.)

Am I the only one who doesn't give a damn about the Mitchell Report? Seems like every single person who writes on baseball, from FJM to your local sanctimonious newspaper hack, is unanimous in their condemnation of juicers -- they're cheaters, they're scoundrels, their records are illegitimate. Click on any online column and you can find a semiliterate comment along the lines of "THERE CHEATERS. NOONE SHOULD USE STEROYDS."

Am I alone in saying that taking steroids or HGH to improve performance is not cheating, not immoral, nothing even to be ashamed of? Let me posit this hypothetical: What if doctors called the soreness and fatigue after an athlete's weight regimen a specific syndrome, say "post-exertion corpora trauma", and prescribed steroids as treatment? (Steroids are, after all, medicines; they were prescribed for my son Jason when he had eczema at the age of six months. I told him it was flaxseed oil.)

On what grounds would we condemn this diagnosis? Would it be any more bogus than "erectile dysfunction"? Everyone knows perfectly well that the people who are prescribed Viagra do not have problems attaining erections, they just want a pill to give them a better sex experience. Or let's take cholesterol drugs. I recently saw my physician after a blood test showed borderline high cholesterol, and she discussed the option of lowering my cholesterol with drugs. Now these drugs are completely unnecessary. I could cut down on my intake of fatty foods, and exercise more; if I end up taking drugs to lower my cholesterol it's because I choose not to employ these non-chemical strategies.

One could easily imagine an alternate universe in which drug treatment is accepted, but surgery considered immoral and unnatural. In this universe, George Mitchell dumps on the "Tommy John 53", the list of pitchers who received ligament transplants in shady out-of-the-way clinics. The sanctimony would be of a different flavor, but just as revolting.

Clemens criticized several of the players named in the Mitchell Report as alleged cheaters. "I've got the same body parts I was born with. I didn't go to a South African doctor to have a tendon turned into a ligament. Mariano [Rivera] and [John] Smoltz can't say the same thing."

The use of steroids is not cheating. Steroids help athletes attain better results from bodybuilding. Good for them; so do nutritional supplements, and for that matter so does good weightlifting technique. (The current governor of California wrote a book on how best to pump iron; does reading such a tome constitute an unfair advantage?) Perhaps steroids help pitchers recover from the stress of hurling baseballs. Again, good for them; so do ice packs and massages and a proper throwing regimen.

(Cheating involves gaining an unfair advantage on one's competitors. Like for instance one Gaylord Perry, who doctored the baseballs he threw with Vaseline -- and who winked and giggled all the way to the Hall of Fame, with nary an ill consequence for boasting of his cheating in published books.)

The storm of abuse directed at steroid users is absurd and anachronistic; its perpetrators need to read some Vernor Vinge, or have a few quiet thoughts about the future of pharmacology. Are you outraged that Barry Bonds had a late-career surge because he was on the juice? Good luck in the year 2027 when your coworker takes pills to make himself smarter.



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