The last week or so has been a bad one for athletes who take drugs. These are not the rare and random wild-card athletes who get nailed for "drugs of abuse," these are athletes who, for reasons that usually come down to making more money playing sports...
Say what you will for or against drugs, but chances are you take them. This is not so much saying something about you, but more an obvious thing about the way people actually live. In our day-to-day lives as debased and alienated servants of global capital's misery-machine/individuals endowed with free will, most of the drugs we take aren't strictly performance-enhancing. Unless it is your job to be Clammy Hallucinating Person Rapidly but Unwittingly Clearing the Room at a Party or Jaw-Grinding Person Telling a Long, Loud Story Without a Clear Endpoint—and if it is, congratulations on weathering a shitty economic climate like a champ—chances are good that drugs are not really helping you in your line of work. There's no reason why you should be getting the following bit of advice from a sports column, but to the extent that drugs are making it difficult for you to more effectively or joyfully be yourself, you should really probably limit your intake. If they don't, then you should probably have a blast exactly as you wish, with this column's blessing, given that you're an adult. It is not this column's job, or anyone else's, to tell you what to do or how to do it. Unless you are a professional athlete, in which case: some bad news.
The last week or so has been a bad one for athletes who take drugs. These are not the rare and random wild-card athletes who get nailed for "drugs of abuse"—the baffling and sad heroin-addicted minor league baseball palyers or NBA party-monsters like MDMA/throat-tattoo aficionado Chris "Birdman" Andersen. These are athletes who, for reasons that usually come down to making more money playing sports, get in trouble for taking performance-enhancing drugs. A decade ago, in baseball, this meant good old anabolic steroids, which in turn meant sub-average backup catchers showing up at Spring Training with freshly minted home run power, giant puffy wrestling muscles, and new and terrifying backne and anger management issues. In cycling, which is more or less the opposite of baseball insofar as it's a slow and opaque thing Europeans love and Americans don't understand, it generally meant blood doping. In recent weeks this has meant season-ending positive tests for San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera and Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon, and the lifetime ban and retroactive un-immortalizing of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. This is news, but it's not at all new.
The state of the art in performance-enhancing drugs has evolved, as such things do. But what makes athletes take drugs hasn't changed, and won't. It's the same thing that makes everyone else take drugs. It's the sense that, in a given situation—crippling anxiety or the pursuit of a multi-year guaranteed contract, a Wooden Shjips show or a succession of Tour de France yellow jerseys—messing around with one's biochemical status quo will help more than it will hurt. This is a choice people make—rightly or wrongly but generally wrongly quite a few times before they do it rightly with any regularity—all the time. It's bad for sports, in the sense that it is very important for sports to be fair, and to the extent that it's against the rules, those rules obviously should be enforced. It's one thing to tell adults they can't smoke marijuana, but another to tell professional athletes not to dope, if only because marijuana probably won't help adults improve as actuaries or chocolatiers or bus drivers to the degree that it harms career prospects of actuaries and chocolatiers and bus drivers who abstain. Athletes who dope can't say as much.
All sports fans know this, although the sanctimony of the loudest and weepiest and silliest voices in the sports discourse can do a lot to make us forget it, and indulge in some selective oh-fuck-off-Bob-Costas libertarianism. Many sports pundits—barnacle-encrusted curmudgeons and fake-o television goof-bots and fuming, pious Junior-Mint rageballs alike— respond to even the thinnest dribble of juice-talk with a fluttering skippy goofiness that would shame Buster Bluth. It's normal and natural to respond to that "How can our children ever believe in us or anything else ever again, given this particular second baseman's positive test for HGH?" response with a righteous shrug.
But if it's good to keep things in perspective, it's also worthwhile to remember that performance-enhancing drugs are cheating, and thus are the sort of thing we should feel comfortable calling a dick move. In Cabrera's case, robust doses of synthetic testosterone probably helped a player previously best known for eating something he found on his bat morph into MVP of the All-Star Game and in line for a shockingly large payday. In Colon's case, it may have helped a declining former Cy Young winner with the physique of a Spicy Hawaiian Pizza Hot Pocket get a few extra years of big league play. With Armstrong … Well, with Armstrong, it's complicated, given that he's accomplished much more than Cabrera and Colon combined, and that he has both passed hundreds of drug tests and been identified as an ardent doper by a number of former teammates. and because he's seen by some as an inspirational and indomitable cancer-trouncing warrior-king and by others as a self-centered, Sheryl Crow-dating Men's Health cover come to unbearable, shirtless life. All, most likely, have sought an edge outside the rules, and to the extent that it's against the rules and unfair, that was uncool of them. But we should probably leave it there. That particular choice of a shortcut on the way to the lucratively superhuman doesn't make them much more admirable, but neither does it make them any less human. The opposite, actually.
How disillusioned, angry, or hurt you choose to get about all this weak, dishonest, and hugely human behavior from a bunch of humans is, finally, your choice every bit as much as how you fill in your Friday night pharmaceutical dance card. But in terms of selective sanctimony, as in terms of any other irresponsible indulgence that's harmful and makes a body difficult to be around, it's probably wise to indulge responsibly. With the aspersions we cast and the judgments we make, as with the substances we take, it's probably best to do it all in moderation, and with a sober, self-aware eye on not being an asshole.
Previously - Fs All Around