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PEDs, Baseball, and American Culture

Let me be clear from the beginning.  I am sick to death of Alex Rodriguez and his antics--both on and off the field.  As a baseball fan, I want cheaters out of the game, period.  As a Yankees fan, I want them out of baseball even if they wear pinstripes.

But don't get your hopes up that this is going to happen any time soon.  For one thing, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are part and parcel of American culture.  PEDs are not just used by professional athletes.  Many Americans take medication which improves the quality of life, and enhances our ability to perform all kinds of basic tasks--some of these work-related.  Some will say, "that's not PED use," but I'm not so sure this is an easy call.  In fact, it is the wide-spread and accepted use of PEDs throughout our culture, which explains why so many are tempted to use banned and illegal PEDs (especially if they work better than legal ones).

What will MLB do?  Many who specialize in such things, point out that MLB's case against these ballplayers is actually quite weak.  The New York Post's Joel Sherman, explains why the twenty men named will not go away quietly (PED users will fight back), and a noted labor attorney points out that MLB has a very weak case based on a very questionable witness with little support in the way of laboratory science (MLB's weak case).  If you think the twenty or so players supposedly in the cross-hairs of MLB's attempt to suspend them, will go quietly into the night and take their punishment (and their pay-cuts) like men, well then, I've got some land in Stanton I want to sell you.

We should also give some consideration to just how deeply PEDs are now ingrained in American life and culture.  I know a guy (I'm sure you know someone just like him) who constantly berates me for being a Yankees fan.  He's always griping about A-Rod's ridiculous contract (BTW--I agree with him), and how the Yankees "buy pennants" (something which, if true, isn't working very well of late).

This same man who rants about PED use in baseball has also made it widely known that he uses Cialis.  He claims it is a wonder drug (he has had some health issues) but he also complains about its cost, and lets just say he laments that this wonder drug puts "the romantic mood on the clock."  He's married, and you can figure out what he is lamenting. 

I understand that his PED use is not the same as a professional athlete--he's not being paid to perform (well, lets hope not), and he's not using something which is illegal or banned by his union.  This medication was prescribed by his doctor, and it brings intimacy and satisfaction to both himself and his wife.  But nevertheless he still uses a medication to enhance performance and nobody (including him) thinks twice about it.  How many of you reading this have ever taken Tylenol PM when you have a big day ahead at work and cannot sleep?  What about taking a pain reliever to get through a day's work?  Or a pain reliever the next day because you did too much the day before?  And just how many commercials have we watched in which some drug company was telling us how their pill will improve our lives, despite all the side effects mentioned?

PED use runs very deep in American life.  This is why we should not in any sense be surprised that professional athletes would turn to performance enhancing substances (even banned and illegal ones) to recover from injury quicker, stave-off the effects of aging (like most Cialis users), and even to improve current performance because it means a pile of money.   If MLB owners are going to pay these guys millions to perform, what do they expect?

I'm not attempting to justify professional athletes procuring illegal PEDs, or violating the terms of their contracts by using substances banned by MLB.  Athletes who do so should pay the piper.  But I am saying that our culture is a PED using culture, so we surely understand why someone would be tempted to seek to gain an edge they otherwise would not have.

As for MLB and the current hubbub, sad to say, I am afraid the Yankees and their fans are stuck with A-Rod for the balance of his contract (unless his hip injury forces him to retire).  Cheaters do prosper in professional sports because ours is a PED using culture. 

We do indeed live in a brave (and PED filled) new world. 

Reader Comments (7)

Some people like me have no problem with the use of PEDs. The problem comes about with the gov't making them illegal and the possible health effects associated with some of them. I would like to be PEDs less regulated by the gov't and allow for private sports organizations to decide their own rules as to what is banned; but I don't think this will happen.
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto
Go A's
June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDSY
The first commenter's reply raises a good point. In fact, in Lance Armstrong's case it was an organization who apparently has a self-appointed mission to go after banned drug use among professional athletes that finally did him in, not so much cycling's official ruling committee, the UCI. They were more or less dragged along by the tsunami once he confessed to PED use, as were the courts.

How all of this public pressure and scrutiny got started varies from sport to sport, but in cycling's case the momentum built to the breaking point more than 50 years ago when a British cyclist literally rode himself to death on a mountain stage during exceptionally hot weather after having taken some sort of stimulant. Turned out later that he had some congenital coronary issues that made cycling a poor choice of sport to begin with and was only exacerbated by the strenuous climb.

On related issue, since this blog post mentions Cialis, it turned out that toward the end of this past NFL season many players admitted to taking some form of Tadalafil before games to improve blood flow, since that's apparently part of the way the drug works.

As for baseball, being a White Sox fan I'm in a bad funk - not sure what's wrong that team this season. Sure there have been some key players on the DL, but they just don't seem to be playing up to expectations.
June 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
As one who is on the political left, I must object to you being a yankees fan. After all, one cannot be anti-empire and root for the yankees
June 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Day
I'm confused by the grouping of a sleep aid or a pain-killer with a drug that enhances performance. The first two allow one to retain or restore a normal function that has been disrupted. A performance enhancer is just that, it enhances something natural that has not been disrupted. I don't see how taking a sleeping pill to allow me to function properly is the same thing as taking a steroid to help me function beyond what already works properly.

I don't think baseball's reluctance to punish cheaters has anything to do with a PED culture. I think it has more to do with who runs baseball. The style of play is trending away from home runs and more towards pitching and small-ball. Baseball being the insulated culture that it is, I think this trend is what will eventually rid us of the cheaters.

Go Cardinals!
June 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRich
If A-Rod gets banned for life, the Yankee faithful will celebrate. All that money freed up without the millstone. Is the whole PED investigation a Yankee conspiracy?!
August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Yamada
Well...Super crush of the Broncos is history and we're in that lull (boredom) before baseball and spring starts. A-Rod has rescinded his law suite against everybody but his barber. In defense, not condoning or defending, a major league baseball player plays 162 regular games with a possible 5 more for wild card play off, 7 more for divisional then 7 more the WS. That's a lot of grinding it out for the older guys especially the players that are purist and fight through pain such as Mr. Ripkin. But that type of a player is becoming a endangered species or a fading past. So in light of all of that a little recovery help would be great for the game and for the aging players that would like to produce for just one more year. but lets not lose track of the fact that if you can not hit a 95 MPH tailing fastball or 73 MPH change up all the PED on the market will not make you a multi-millionaire major league star or journeyman player. I think its something called "gifts-talent-ability".

My issue is not PED but pride and the American fan that idealizes their sports hero's. It really is just a game.
February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in VA

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