A couple of days ago Manny Ramirez got busted for taking steroids, and was promptly suspended from Major League Baseball for fifty games. A lot of fans were extremely disappointed. In this day and age, when all the supervising sports organizations are checking for these kinds of infractions – especially amongst its high-performing stars – it must enrage fans to know that a player would be stupid enough to take drugs.
But why are we so enraged by these performance enhancing drugs? Why is this such a big deal? Because we believe that athletes should be role-models for the younger fans? That’s ridiculous. Most professional athletes behave like the worst kind of hip-hop and rock stars, who curse, lie, and cheat while spending every penny they earn on flashy cars, poorly-made jewelry and augmentation surgery for the most current wife.
The athletes taking steroids are not a bunch of loafers who are laying around on the couch all day, then pop a pill prior to game time and win big. No, these players are extremely competitive. They work out, they practice, they hone their craft every day, and will seek out an edge any way they can.
In the automotive industry it has long been accepted that racing improves the brand. Tricks and equipment that are developed on the track often makes its way into regular cars, and the average person benefits from the lessons learned. Why not do the same with these kinds of drugs? Level the playing field, and let athletes take whatever they want. The armsrace amongst the pharmboys will benefit the rest of us in some way – either by discovering something positive or being able to rule it out due to long-term and side effects.
Two weeks ago the New Yorker had an extremely interesting article called Brain Gain about neuro-enhancers that function as performance drugs for the brain. Starting to get a little forgetful? Need to focus on certain kinds of work for longer periods than is comfortable? Well, there are a number of drugs out there that are gaining substantial traction. They’re being used Off Label at this point, which means many were originally developed for other users. Drugs that have been successful for children with A.D.H.D. are quite effective amongst Ivy League students as well. The article raises a lot of good questions. Why wouldn’t we want find ways for the brain to function at higher levels? Would you give it to your child in the years prior to college if you know the other kids in your competitive school are also taking them? What if your younger colleague is cranking out better, more detailed work – and doing so more frequently? What if it’s illegal, so the company moves a lot of the heavy brain work to Singapore where there are no such limits?
I have to admit it’s tempting. I looked into these drugs a few years ago. I don’t focus well, especially on tasks that aren’t that interesting… but I have an addictive personality, and ultimately concluded that my life is sufficiently moderated by some additional self-discipline. Still, a pill that fixes a shortcoming is a nice idea. We accept medical solutions for a number of ailments. You can bet that should the need ever arise, I will be the first in line for some E.D. treatments like Viagra.
So I wish everyone would just let the athletes take whatever they want. I really don’t care, and I have no misconceptions of them as priests and rabbis of phyisical purity and perfection. Sports is entertainment, and if eeking out an extra couple of hits or seconds can be gained from some drug cocktail, so be it. Maybe we can even learn through them.
And the only fitting image I could find is this shot of mine. It’s a discarded prescription bottle I found on the sand in Venice near the body builder’s beach.