The recent Alistair Overeem fiasco has prompted a great deal of discussion on the Bleacher Report and various MMA sites around the web.
Rather than a united cohort of angry fans condemning "The Demolition Man" (though many people have), there has been a handful of those calling for a change to the regulations. There have been some calling for the legalization of steroids.
As I write this article, the poll on the Bleacher Report's UFC homepage reads 12.9% of fans in favor of legalization, 87.1% condemning it.
Though 12.9% is not a terribly large number, it is significant. And it is bewildering to me that any significant number of people could support such an action.
I am not here to discuss morality. I am not here to chastise anyone for their opinion. I am only here to question whether those who are pro-legalization are looking at the big picture.
Some say that legalization would level the playing field. If everyone is using, everyone is equal. And besides, if an individual wants to put something into his body, the resulting problems are his to deal with.
I get the logic here. I do. It seems pretty well put together. But it is flawed, it is wrong and the effects precipitated by legalization would be the precise opposite of what the people calling for it would expect.
If steroids are allowed and condoned, they are essentially made mandatory. After all, how could one fighter refusing to use them match up against 99 others that are medically engineered specimens? Probably not very well.
Consequently, fighters who decide they don't want to deal with hormone swoons and shrunken testicles are more or less told MMA is not for them.
I'm no doctor and I don't know the side effects of steroids beyond the ones synonymous with the drugs themselves, but particulars aside, I think we can agree that steroids are dangerous.
Now, some people won't have sympathy for fighters who chose to put steroids into their body to gain a competitive advantage. That's fine. I understand that line of thought.
But what about the guys who dream about becoming an MMA fighter, but don't really want to deal with a slew of adverse medical issues? Are we just to say, "screw them?"
That's what legalization says.
Sympathy may be in short supply, but to embrace legalization is to peer-pressure anyone who wants to be a fighter (true athletes and competitors) into using steroids, and into serious harm.
To allow steroids is to encourage their use, because no fighter could seriously ignore the benefits of using while every single one of his opponents embraces it.
Beyond this platitude is the flimsy reasoning that MMA is already dangerous, and that it is an entertainment sport, which benefits from its own inherent violence.
This is akin to suggesting we should give each fighter a sword. The movie Gladiator was pretty good, if its "caution to the wind" entertainment we seek, let's just give up the pretense of rules and safety altogether.
Of course, that wouldn't fly, so why make the compromise on the steroid issue?
Besides, steroids pose a different kind of threat than fighting does. While the dangers of fighting are apparent, the dangers of steroids are intangible, allowing people to look the other way on their effects. This makes them far more dangerous than physical pain, broken bones and repetitive concussions, all serious dangers in their own right.
Certainly, permitting steroid use would solve some problems.
I was just as upset as anyone else that Overeem's failed drug test means we may not get to see him battle UFC heavyweight kingpin Junior Dos Santos. It sucks, and there are no two ways about that.
But does our disappointment really warrant putting anyone who aspires to be a high-level mixed martial artist at risk of early death?
Besides, let's put blame where blame is due: on Alistair Overeem. That we may not see him fight Junior Dos Santos is his fault, and his fault alone. Blame, in no part, belongs to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
If the Commission enforced a rule that blue shirts were not allowed at press conferences, and a fighter showed up to one in a blue shirt, it is the fighter's fault and no one else's.
Unlike my blue shirt analogy, the ban on steroids is not stupid, nor arbitrary. It is there for a reason and a good one at that.
Condoning the legalization of steroids puts more fighters at risk and essentially crushes the dream of any fighter unwilling to deal with a bunch of adverse medical issues once he is retired.
Right now, the rules say that if a fighter uses steroids, he cannot fight. If steroids are legalized, the rules will implicitly say that you can only fight (successfully) if you do use steroids. At least in top-tier promotions.
I think the way it is right now is the better option.