PEDs are getting the best of baseball, America
The moral debate presented by the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) is a tricky mistress, not because of its current erosion of athletic validity, nor because of its inevitable historical repercussions, but because of what allowing this practice says about our culture as a whole – and yes, we allow it. No one is questioning whether or not the greatest statistical achievements of the last two decades are due to the universal use of drugs that enhance performance – that's pretty much a given.
The problem is that we accept these new sports statistics with a noticeable amount of ennui.
And nowhere is our indifference more glaringly apparent than in the numbers-driven microcosm that is Major League Baseball.
In the lifetime of the average college student, almost every major statistical milestone that has been used since the beginning of baseball to gauge the prowess of a major league superhero has been either shattered or obliterated, catapulting home run scores, batting averages and no-hit streaks into the un-RE-obtainable depths of performance-enhanced space.
The trouble this presents is two-fold: one, people are only human. Baseball records have been growing harder to reach exponentially faster than evolution could possibly account for. As such, we rightfully blame the drugs.
That said, if we were to completely rid the MLB of PEDs and we calculated the average maximum output of homeruns a non-juiced player could conceivably achieve in a season, would that make any of the current records less significant?
Sure, we'll put asterisks next to the statistical milestones achieved by drug-enhanced performances of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds, but won't all future players be forever doomed to be "almost" as good as the current records, punctuation and all?
Which leads to the much more significant – if not completely overlooked – second problem: is Barry Bonds really the greatest home-run hitter of all time?
Is it fair to say "yes" simply because he broke Hank Aaron's career homerun record even if he was on drugs?
Is it fair to say "no" simply because he took drugs that only enhanced his already astronomical performance? And does it really matter?
Clearly, no amount of injected hormones is going to make Nomar Garciapara into a record-breaking Sultan of Swat – steroids aren't made of leprechauns and unicorns.
Players aren't (yet) ingesting gamma rays and mutating into the Hulk when they step up to the plate.
In fact, PEDs usually just decrease muscle recovery time so that players can train harder.
Does having better gym equipment count as enhanced performance? Does having a better physical therapist? Of course not. So why do we care? In short, we don't.
As Bonds has said to the press, repeatedly, "baseball is a business."
He wasn't striving for record-breaking status so that he could become our generation's role model of athletic supremacy; he just wanted to make money.
To Bonds, and apparently to American baseball fans at large, it was perfectly acceptable to see baseball records destroyed because it was good for business.
If you're upset about this disgrace, don't be. Let's not pretend that no one noticed when a 40-something outfielder from the Giants suddenly morphed into a club-wielding rhinoceros and began successfully chasing baseball's holiest grail.
We all saw that he was cheating, and we all tuned in to root him on.
And this is where the whole steroids controversy comes crashing down under its own juiced-up weight: We don't really care.
We don't care if performance-enhanced players break 50-year old baseball records because we're collectively empathetic.
We are desensitized to the moral bankruptcy of cheating.
In fact, as a society, we seem to be developing a disdain for legitimate competition as a whole – we want everyone to have free everything and no one should ever have to struggle for it because, hey, people cheat, and that's not fair unless we all get to cheat.
"Gotta look out for number one," we say, or "the only person you can trust is yourself."
And so, almost to prove to ourselves that cheating itself is a form of competition, we let obviously-juiced, obviously-lying players like Bonds rob us of not only the history of our great sports, but of our own cultural integrity.
As we each strive to be successful individuals in our communities, we have become less concerned with sports, and obsessively focused on sports stars.
We are done looking for admirable role models, and are desperately looking for confirmation that looking out for number one is the best business model.
Look at the celebrity of players in other top-three sports like Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick (or hell, look at Lance Armstrong, the insufferable personality that still insists he nabbed seven Tour de France victories with a single testicle on Gatorade alone – we should be insulted).
It's not even sports anymore, it s a popularity contest – it's "American Idol."
No one's playing for the love of the game anymore because it's all business. We don't have a national pastime because time is money, and nobody wants "pastmoney."
So – yup! – athletes are still using performance-enhancing drugs, and this will continue.
They can't stop because rationally, Americans won't settle (read: pay money) for the inevitable future disappointments of players who simply can't compete with the performance-enhanced goals hung lofty and unobtainable by their predecessors.
And morally, cheaters make us feel better about ourselves – this is America's vice.
It's okay to steal because Robin Hood did it and he's a hero.
It's okay to lie because O.J. did it and literally got away with murder.
It's okay to practice adultery because Jefferson did it and he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
We are slowly letting ourselves believe that individual financial success is worth moral sacrifice – Bonds is, after all, incontestably a steroid user and incontestably number one.
At best, he represents a bad apple; a self-aggrandizing jerk that contrived a way to the top spot of the Hall of Fame using illegal substances all in the name of fiscal prosperity – fans be damned.
At worst, he represents the entire American consciousness, and our deliberate suspension of moral composure for the sake of personal gain.
But then, in a world of cheaters, if you're not cheating, you're not really competing.