A few days ago, it was reported by the Chicago Tribune among many, many others that Roger Clemens is going to start again for the Sugar Land Skeeters on September 7.
Of course, there has been much discussion about the host of possible implications to this comeback.
However, for me, this debate is perfectly representative of the divisive issue and ultimately the problem of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.
First, to point out the obvious, if Roger Clemens was not wrapped up in this entire debate around performance-enhancing drugs, we would be celebrating this comeback right now.
We would all be amazed that a pitcher could be away from baseball for such a long time and step right back in with a pretty solid performance in a competitive independent league.
We would almost unanimously be cheering for Clemens right now, but because of the controversy surrounding him, the issue becomes trickier.
The issue becomes trickier simply because this entire controversy strikes right at the heart of all of his success.
In other words, there are many people who feel that everything that Roger Clemens ever did was invalid because of the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. After all, if he had an unfair advantage, why should we celebrate any of his accomplishments?
The other view that I have heard (somewhat less often) is the general assumption that performance-enhancing drug use was rampant during the 1990s, and if everyone, or at least quite a few players, were using them, there wouldn't be an unfair advantage. If he didn't have an unfair advantage, then there is no reason to punish him.
This isn't simply an issue of off-the-field problems that have limited bearing on his success. Off-the-field issues are problematic, but those tend to fade much more quickly (in the Olympics, did everyone automatically hate Michael Phelps for his marijuana episode? Temporarily maybe, but during these past Olympics, we were all cheering for him again). Maybe they shouldn't, but they do.
The biggest controversies in baseball history have been the ones that directly involve baseball. For example, when Pete Rose bet on baseball, he got banned for life. When the Black Sox threw the World Series, they were banned for life.
People do not like things that challenge the integrity of the game, and that is where the ultimate problem with performance-enhancing drugs lies. Yes, we should be concerned about the health of these athletes, and that should be our No. 1 concern.
However, if you ask the average person what the problem is with performance-enhancing drugs, I'll bet they would tell you that they give an unfair advantage.
This Roger Clemens example shows that. He was found not guilty in his perjury trial, and he has constantly denied using performance-enhancing drugs. However, the allegations surrounding this issue have tainted his career in a way that might be ultimately beyond repair.
That is why Major League Baseball needs to work especially hard to stamp out this issue. What if Roger Clemens is being perfectly honest, and he never used any performance-enhancing drugs? His entire career and legacy would have been ruined for no reason.
That definitely is not fair, and the purpose of a strong drug-testing policy is to make the game fair for everyone. Eliminate the people who use the drugs, and if that testing system is stringent enough, it would be very hard for a user to slide through the cracks. Then, anyone who tested clean would be above suspicion.
This entire era has been a huge headache for everyone involved with Major League Baseball. Obviously, players who cheat need to be punished, but other perfectly innocent players had been thrown under the bus without any justifiable proof (Jeff Bagwell comes to mind immediately).
As Roger Clemens perhaps continues this comeback, this debate won't go away. There will still be a debate about performance-enhancing drugs, and it will continue to cause problems.
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