I have no problem with performance enhancing substances in sports. Any sports.
There. I’ve said it, and boy does it feel good to have that off my chest.
How can I make such an outrageous statement? How dare I set my opinion against one of our sacred cows, our great sporting bogeyman? Pretty easily actually.
My opinion developed many years ago when I was playing excellent baseball in Canada and generating interest from professional scouts.
It was made clear to me when I was only 15 or 16—through very careful implication because no one would actually say the word—that if I wanted to make it to the big leagues I had to bulk up, juice up, drug up, take steroids.
I fought with the idea for a couple of years, watching people around me take them and make massive strides. And I very nearly took them myself. I can admit now that, in fact, I would have taken them if chance had not intervened.
You see, I was a catcher. But I have leg perthes, a degenerative bone disease of the hips and legs that will cause my hip joints to come apart once the bone deteriorates beyond the hip’s ability to stay in its socket.
If I had gone on to play ball I would have sped up the deterioration and lost my hips about a decade ago, cutting my career incredibly short and hastening the need for plastic hips.
But I never had to make the decision to hasten my hip collapse, nor to take steroids.
When the scouts discovered I had leg perthes, I was off the list. I was too great a risk for investment, and I wasn’t “so good” that the risk was worth taking.
So baseball slipped away from me, and I never took steroids.
But I would have. Yes. I absolutely would have.
We all know about the risks of taking steroids. Even back then I was aware of the effects it could have on my body, both positive and negative, but risks be damned.
People take risks everyday, and with nowhere near the payoff the risk of performance enhancing drugs gives athletes.
In the U.S., you may avoid taking steroids because if something goes wrong you wouldn’t be able to afford the medical care needed to keep you alive and functioning healthily. But if you are an athlete who is good enough to become pro you are also likely to be willing to take risks. It comes with the territory, and if you succeed as an athlete your multi-millionaire status makes medical bills entirely irrelevant.
Elsewhere in the world, medical concerns are less important and the medical risk is nowhere near as great. Most everywhere that has professional sport outside the U.S. also has nationalized health care. You don’t have to pay for care. The state gives it to you. So why not take the risk? If you succeed in sport it can change your life, the lives of your family and children, and give you a living doing something you love.
And if you don't succeed, the state will still pay for your dialysis.
In the end, the chances of success with steroids for someone who shows the requisite talent are a hell of a lot better than playing the lottery every week. More risky, for sure, but with a better chance of a real pay off.
Let's face it. If you are a good athlete, performance enhancement is a temptation that is almost impossible to resist.
But there is something else we need to face: fan culpability.
We all know what fans want. We want home runs, faster skating, harder tackles, tireless running, higher jumps, and world records being broken in inhuman ways. And that makes us tacitly responsible for the use and proliferation of performance enhancement.
The point of sports is always to go higher, faster, better, and the reality of sport is that higher, faster, better can only come these days through enhancement. Whether that enhancement comes in the form of NASA-inspired bathing suits or hormone therapy or performance enhancing drugs or even, eventually, surgical alteration, fans demand it because the old standards become mundane. We simply tune out.
But few fans want to admit their roles in the move to performance enhancement. It’s much easier to get all moral, express our indignance at “cheaters,” play the “role model” card, and talk about the destruction of sports as we know it than it is to admit the truth.
And what is that truth? The truth is that damn near every athlete at the Olympics, damn near every athlete playing at a professional level in every sport, damn near every record-breaking performance has had some contact, somewhere along the line, with performance enhancing drugs.
But as the drugs become better, so do the ways of dodging testing. And we all know this, which is why our anger is saved for those who are proven to have taken "performance enhancing substances" rather than for the culture, of which we fans are a part, that promotes performance enhancement in the first place.
So I say forget the testing and forget our indignance.
I am not being ironic when I say that we should let performance enhancement happen and take away the guilt. Make enhancement an open and honest part of sport.
Let the athletes enhance themselves, help them do it as healthily as possible, and let all of us, athletes and fans, enjoy the performance benefits in a guilt-free environment.
If you don’t want to enhance yourself and become a professional athlete, you don't have to. Enhancement is the price you pay for sporting greatness, and if you don't want to do it you don't have to.
And even a teenager is able to make an informed decision for him/herself.