Unless you live under a rock, you are aware that Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroid use in 2003. Since the result was leaked (no pun intended) to the media two weeks ago, writers have pinched off myriad sanctimonious loaves about what an asshole A-Rod is, how he should be banned from the Hall of Fame, tarred and feathered and run from town on a rail, blah blah blah. These are many of the same writers, mind you, who conveniently looked the other way in 1998 when obvious juicers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Back then, it was easier to sell newspapers by glorifying their achievements than by questioning them. Now that it’s no longer plausible to ignore the drug issue, it’s easy to generate internet traffic by joining the witch hunt that has been disgracing the game for past few years.
The positive test that has these hypocrites in their latest tizzy was part of a preliminary screening intended to determine the extent of drug use in baseball. The players agreed to this screening under the condition that the tests be anonymous and that the results remain confidential. The lab that performed these tests apparently labeled the samples in a manner that was far from anonymous, and the players union failed to order the results destroyed after they had served their purpose. A year later, when the government decided it was necessary to investigate a few ballplayers suspected of drug use (not including A-Rod), agents illegally seized all the results rather than just the ten for which they had a warrant. Now, years later, someone in government has illegally leaked A-Rod’s confidential test results to the media.
There’s a big story here, and it’s not that A-Rod stuck a needle in his ass six years ago. It’s the wanton waste of taxpayer money and the flagrant abuse of government power. At least two serious crimes were committed, and nobody is talking about them; everyone is too busy prattling on about what a naughty little boy A-Rod is.
A-Rod did cheat, and he is kind of a douche nozzle, but I can’t help but feel kind of sorry for him. There were 104 players that tested positive for “performance enhancing drugs” in 2003, but for some reason his is the only name that’s been leaked thus far. Moreover, many players have tested positive since MLB instituted its new testing policy in 2005, but I don’t remember reading any screeds condemning Larry Bigbie or Juan Rincon. A-Rod’s sin is not that he took steroids, but that he took steroids and is a good player.
And what are “performance enhancing drugs,” anyhow? Most people use this phrase to refer to anabolic steroids, but there exists no conclusive evidence that anabolic steroids enhance baseball performance; in fact, there’s plenty of credible research to the contrary. The “steroid era,” during which numbers were supposedly inflated, has little basis in reality. And what about amphetamines? Unlike anabolic steroids, amphetamines have well-documented performance enhancing properties. During the 1950s and 60s, amphetamines were ubiquitous in baseball despite the fact that they were banned. Where are the calls to throw Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays out of the Hall of Fame?
And baseball is not the only sport with a drug problem, as anyone who’s watched an NFL game can attest. Football players routinely test positive for steroids with nary a peep from the media. In 2006, Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman tested positive for steroids, served a 4-game suspension, and still finished third in the defensive player of the year voting. Why is it that drug use in baseball is a mortal sin, while drug use in football is almost expected?
Another double standard is the fact that other forms of performance enhancement, such as dietary supplements and laser eye surgery, are considered perfectly acceptable. Those who bemoan the drug issue seem to think that the line between ethical and unethical forms of performance enhancement is perfectly clear; to me, it seems blurry at best. Their standard response to this point is that “PEDs” are illegal, but this argument is circular: PEDs are bad because they’re illegal, and they’re illegal because they’re bad.
Personally, I don’t think what athletes choose to put in their bodies is my or anyone else’s business. Contrary to popular belief, anabolic steroids are not especially dangerous if taken in moderation. In fact, they can dramatically speed recovery from injury; given what ballplayers put their bodies through on a daily basis, I can’t fault them for turning to medical science to keep them on the field. It would be much safer if they could do so openly and under a doctor’s supervision.