Kiss My Asterisk

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

So Mark McGwire has confessed to steroid use during his record breaking 1998 season. It was a great season; with McGwire and Sammy Sosa battling out for a new single season home run record. Roger Maris’ family is upset and demanding an asterisk. No, there should not be any asterisk next to McGwire’s record. He earned his record. Same as Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and David Ortiz who were all juiced but deserve recognition of their achievements. Also included are Marion Jones, running back Travis Henry, and Lance Armstrong.

If memory serves, we live in the United States of America. We are a free nation that prides itself on individual achievement and success. Ours is not a social construct predicated upon disabling those out front so as to enable to do so those who cannot or will not keep up. Equality in this nation means equality of opportunity; not of outcome. You don’t break the legs of the fastest runners to enable the slower ones to win.

In sports, as in life, the loudest opponents to the concepts of “higher”, “faster”, and “stronger” are those same purists who seek a return to their little house on the prairie, want their two chickens in every pot, dream they are the Marlboro man, and plan a Donna Reed lifestyle. They will not look forward and insist on anchoring human enlightenment and progress in a bygone era. They are the modern day blacksmiths facing down the new fangled invention called the automobile.

“We have the technology”.

Americans have labored long and hard to enhance the standard of living. We have built the most impressive technology, garnered incredible scientific achievement, and expanded intellectual understanding of the universe beyond our Founders’ wildest dreams. We have driven the surface of Mars, discovered the computer chip, split the atom, and figured out the science of cloning. All of this was for the betterment of the human condition. Yet, when it comes to taking advantage of this technology for growing our own human potential, some folks dig in and insist we hold onto the ways of old. To them, churning butter is much more beneficial to humanity than margarine.

My wife had a major operation a few years ago. I had a lengthy and long discussion with the anesthesiologist prior thereto about the subject of pain management. He elaborated on what I already knew; namely, that in his profession, there are two schools of thought. One school says pain management and the drugs available should only be used to help a person deal with the pain. The other school says we have the technology and should use the spectrum of drugs available to eradicate pain altogether. Of course it was her luck to draw a student of the former but his attitude changed when I gave him my best Shirley McLaine impression when the nominal pain relief was not working.

The issue however begs the bigger question. Why interfere with athletes who choose to use steroids they believe enhance performance? So far, I have yet to hear a valid and reasonable reason for the revulsion being expressed by the ‘hall monitors – turned politicians’. If Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and a plethora of other professional athletes can run faster, jump higher, hit harder, and perform better, then does not that bespeak of the value of the drug? Are not athletics all about ‘stronger faster higher’?

Objections come in two groups. There are those who claim that steroid use is “cheating”. Another group says steroids are too dangerous. We know now that both claims are not true.

I wish someone would explain to me how steroid use is cheating. Only the competitors bending over for the silver or bronze medals consider steroid use to be cheating. Even McGwire admits he had bad years while taking steroids and had good years when he was not on the juice.

Steroids increase muscle mass, increase aggressiveness, and have other effects that somehow enhance the work an athlete does in preparing for his/her sport. The drug itself is not a performance enhancer but rather drives the athlete to work harder and go faster. This is not cheating; this is taking advantage of what is already there. The drugs are not running, jumping, or swimming. Since the entire concept of athletic competition is about capability, then why not do all we can to bring this about and encourage this performance? If the drug and not the athlete is achieving success, then every steroid user would be a champion and every abstainer would be a failure. What does that say about Michael Jordan, Donovan McNabb, or even Hank Aaron?

Nobody is forcing these drugs into people. Those who choose not to partake certainly have that right … but they cannot whine about losing … no more than I can whine for not winning the Indy 500 because I was driving a Pinto. Besides, with all the science being currently employed in professional athletics and money invested in their performance, trainers have found ways to achieve the same effect with diet, LEGAL drugs, and other supplements. Is this cheating?

Used improperly, steroids can be unhealthy. They can cause great harm. Nobody disputes this. But then again, so can aspirin, cigarettes, sugar, or even walking across the street. All of these things, if unregulated and uncontrolled, can kill you. Today, with so much money invested in an athlete and in his performance, with the levels of medical skill and scientific expertise, it is unlikely that steroids would be used to a dangerous level. But this only applies if they are regulated and controlled; not banned and made illegal.

Yes, there will be those who ABUSE the drug. But since we do not punish all drinkers for the behaviors of the drunk, we should not deprive our athletes the right to “be all they can be” because of the mismanagement of a few.

For me, I am more offended that anyone would ever think about putting an asterisk next to these athletic achievements. Consider what it must take just to stand there at home plate and face down a major league pitcher and still manage to hit more than 70 home runs in a season? What must it take to race the world’s fastest sprinters? Hardly any of us are willing to line up in an NFL game and face a 300 lb linebacker. There are not enough drugs in the world to put me in that situation.

Do you really have enough information to take a stand on this issue? Or is it like our “other” Drug War, you just accept steroids are “bad” because some old man tells you so. How many of you use your own performance enhancing drugs … Viagara, Cialis, or Levitra to achieve your own record smashing performances?

Back to the MarkBlum Report

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