Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dear Congress: Get Tough on Steroids, Because Baseball Won't

I'm a very hurt fan. The man I have watched for countless hours, the baseball player I have cheered on for 13 years, the superstar who has made my jaw drop numerous times and carried my favorite team for half my life is a sham (and an asshole to top it off). It's not like I didn't know it was true -- I just didn't want to believe it. I took the ridicule from friends in college and I've stood up for him in arguments with friends at work. But yesterday, I couldn't say anything.

In a coming book excerpted in this week's Sports Illustrated, Lance Williams and Mark Fainauro-Wada (both of The San Francisco Chronicle -- I've always been a proponent of that fabulous paper) apparently present irrefutable evidence that Barry Bonds did steroids habitually between 1998 and 2002. He took injections when his power numbers dropped off during the season and took a pharmacy's-worth of different kinds of drugs, even learning to inject himself, over the advice of his "trainers" and doctors. Basically, all the amazement was just a big farce.

Baseball officials (including the Giants' owners) noticed that Bonds and tens of other players were getting unnaturally bulky as the 1980s and '90s progressed, but they didn't ask any questions because they didn't want to bite the hand that was feeding them (or paying for their new ballpark). One could say that steroids rescued baseball from the strike and brought more fans into ballparks and in front of their TVs than anyone would have ever thought possible. And how could they have been expected to heed the moral call and blow the whistle? The fans (including me) were loving it, so why ask questions?

That's why Congress needs to step in and hold Major League Baseball to a higher standard. The United States government needs to send the message that steroids aren't the path to greatness -- they're a path to early death (see: Ken Caminiti and, likely, a number of other baseball players in the coming years). We can't trust the private market to do so -- it's already failed us on this one (and on any number of other moral quandaries). In the end, that's one of the government's basic jobs -- to stop the populace from things that are attractive but harmful to the people who do them and others. Sure, they held hearings about the issue last year and threatened to take action, but this time they must do something.

Baseball has a steroid testing system in place, but baseball officials' unwillingness to ask questions when it was readily obvious that something unnatural was going on with the game's biggest (figuratively and literally) sluggers makes me unable to trust that the program will be run thoroughly and fairly. The federal government should use the threat of taking away baseball's anti-trust exemption to enforce a rigorous, thorough anti-steroid program.

You may say lawmakers in Washington have much more important issues to deal with right now -- terrorism, rebuilding New Orleans, gutting programs that help poor people survive while helping the richest get richer -- but this arguably ranks up there. Professional sports stars set an example for hundreds of thousands of young athletes who need to be shown that you can't do something as dangerous (and fake) as steroids without serious immediate consequences (and without understanding the hidden, down-the-road consequences). One can easily broaden the fact that athletes set powerful examples to cheat in any other part of life -- if Barry Bonds can boost his stat-sheet by cheating on his muscles, why can't I boost my bottom line by cheating on my taxes? And finally, Americans spend billions of dollars on sports every day, and they pay for something with integrity (I know I'll get arguments on that one, but it's what I feel), to which steroids are antithetical.

I know my arguments are an anathema to some (see: Mr. Polkuote's post in a matter of hours), but I'm in too much pain to see the only reaction to obvious widespread steroid use be a nearly toothless MLB testing scheme.


Post a Comment

<< Home