Not too long ago Mark McGwire, who some say helped save baseball when he and Sammy Sosa engaged in that epic home run race in 1998, admitted what many people had suspected for years; that he took steroids during the bulk of the 1990s, including in '98 when he broke Roger Maris' record with his 70 round trippers.
Before I go on, however, I want to make something crystal clear:
Steroids are not good. They have ruined people's health and have been known to ultimately kill. Taking banned substances to enhance athletic performance is a dangerous thing to do, and I wholeheartedly agree with them being illegal.
Athletes like Ken Caminiti and Lyle Alzado tragically come to mind when I think about what performance enhancing drugs can do.
Alzado's situation was particularly saddening; this was a Raider legend who tried to make a comeback in the NFL by shooting up steroids like he was a heroin junkie.
It was not surprising when he ended up with several forms of cancer ravaging his body that eventually killed him.
While I concur that those who take steroids, human growth hormone, and other drugs of that nature should be severely punished, I understand why people feel they need to take them.
It's a unique stance to take on this issue, I realize that.
As we all know professional sports is a ruthless business where it's oftentimes tougher to stay at the highest level than it is to get there.
The chances of spending one day on a Major League Baseball, NFL, or NBA roster is practically one in infinity, and for those minute few that do make it, the coaches and managers only care about one thing: whether or not you are producing.
As soon as the player is seen to not be putting up the appropriate numbers or helping the team win, the door cannot be shown to him fast enough.
The pressures of being a major pro athlete are indeed cutthroat. Strikeouts, missed jump shots, and intercepted passes often equals money being taken out of one's pocket and one step closer to being put on waivers for the purpose of being unconditionally released.
Not to mention the agonies that are put on a player's body. The average length of an NBA or NFL career is four years, with guys often retiring with a debilitating injury of some kind. At an average of seven to ten years, baseball players fare a little better, but injuries are a big part of that game as well, especially with pitchers.
What I am getting at is this:
In any situation where the competition to be the best and to stay the best is so intense that the difference between multi-million dollar riches and not getting drafted is minuscule, people are going to do whatever is necessary to gain and maintain an edge.
Nowhere is that more true than in major professional sports.
If someone thinks that taking a few pills, applying a little cream on a muscle or shooting something into their derriere can make him (or her) stronger and quicker and can heal injuries faster, he (or she) would be at least tempted to try it, no matter what anyone else says.
Especially if it made the difference between making an opening day roster and getting cut and sent home.
I once heard that the Phillies' Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt and former Negro League baseball legend Buck O'Neil say that if steroids had been around during their playing days, guys would have taken them, particularly if it meant the difference between winning and losing.
Or between making "The Show" or not.
Or between hitting less than ten home runs or belting 40 homers.
Or between making minimum wage or making 50 million dollars.
In short, I understand the temptation of athletes to try to enhance their performance and gain a competitive edge through drugs.
I do not condone it by any means. But I do understand.
That is why unlike countless others, I don't feel that Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, the people deciding who gets enshrined there, and the court of public opinion should judge former players like McGwire, (allegedly) Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmiero as harshly as they have.
True, they should not have juiced, but does the baseball community have to see them and the others who used steroids and HGH as scummy pariahs?
I say no; they were wrong in 'roiding up, but I can imagine why they did it.
And if those players who were successful at least partly due to going on the juice ever get voted into the Hall, I won't be that upset. They did what they felt they had to do and most importantly, there were no anti-performance enhancing drug policy in baseball during the 1980s and 90s, when most of these men were playing.
That means if they were breaking the rules, it was before it became a rule.
A former football player who was caught with steroids in his system in college described it as "...getting pregnant in March and finding out in August that it was illegal to have babies."
So to sum it all up, my message to all who want to crucify McGwire and burn Manny at the stake, lighten up a bit. As the Bible says...
Judge not, lest ye be judged."
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