Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Steroids: Use ‘em, or lose your job?

Baseball's steroid users remind me of the old Jack Benny joke: The mugger asks, “Your money or your life,” to which you reply, “Let me think about it.”

Or the gemara on loving Gd “with all of your life, and with all that you possess.” The gemara explains that some people value their life highest, and some value their wealth highest, so that the pasuk needs to mention both.

We laugh when we hear those lines - but steroid-pumping athletes have decided that their money is worth more than their lives. The athletes know the risk, they can even see the drugs’ intense effects on their bodies daily, but they take these drugs in pursuit of wealth, financial security, fame, success, etc.

So what’s wrong with it? Why ban these drugs? After all, they are accessible to all athletes, so no one owns an unfair advantage!

Some blame the prohibition on society’s puritan approach to pharmacology, but I have a different take: I think steroids ought to be banned because of their effect on players who don’t want to juice themselves.

Consider this: Let’s say steroid use was legal, but you didn’t want to use it due to health concerns. If you were a baseball player of superb talent, serious team commitment and a solid work ethic, and you worked hard throughout high school and, perhaps, college and minor league ball, you might still earn a spot on a professional team and, at long last, pull down millions for your skills and effort.

But then along comes another player whose work ethic isn’t quite as great as your own, but who is willing to take “the cream.” He bulks up, his vision improves, his bat speed improves, and suddenly you’re riding the bench while he’s riding high.

What choice do you have? This is your career, how else will you feed your family? Besides, you’ve earned a spot on that team through your years of hard work! And so you get pressured into becoming a steroid user, harming your health for the sake of this game/job.

How many good, hard-working players were shut out of baseball by Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, or Barry Bonds?

Think of Wally Pipp losing his position at first base to Lou Gehrig, who went on to play the next thirteen years straight without missing a game; would we feel the same affection for Gehrig if we knew he had stolen Pipp’s job with drugs that Pipp refused to take? Worse - what if Gehrig had taken the job because of drug-enhanced skills, and then Pipp had resorted to drugs to get it back?

I think that on some level it reminds us too much of the ancient Romans and their lions - it's not right to force the athletes to face the lions.

That, to me, is why steroids ought to be illegal in pro sports: Because if some players are allowed to harm themselves for the job, then other players will be forced to do the same.

Just as society won’t permit minors to hire themselves out as sweatshop workers because of the harm to their health;
Just as society won’t tolerate the sale of a kidney for someone to put food on his plate;
Just as society won’t tolerate prostitution of the poor;
So, too, we won’t tolerate a situation in which players are forced to harm themselves in order to play the game.

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