Cool the ‘roid rage

by brianpkibler

Professional sports should allow anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance enhancing drugs.

I know this isn’t a popular idea. Throughout the steroid saga, the public view has shifted from outrage (McGwire, Sosa, Landis, Gatlin, Bonds) to cynical resignation (the Clemens trial, A-Rod, countless ex-Armstrong nemeses, etc.) It has never approached acceptance.

That should change.

The public’s disappointment and sports’ sanctions against these athletes are inconsistent and hypocritical.

One of the basic arguments against performance enhancers is that they provide an unnatural advantage that apparently violates the sanctity of sport.

Yet everywhere I look, we allow and encourage unnatural advantages. Lasik eye surgery and corrective contact lenses are kosher—even in baseball, where eyesight is arguably more important than physical power.

Specialized wide receiver gloves make snagging a football much easier—they’re OK in football.

Ultra-light track spikes are a decided advantage over bare feet in a race.

All are unnatural.

Likewise, a vast number of supplements and chemicals are allowed in all levels of competition. Creatine is a powerful supplement that can help increase muscle mass. Tubs of workout supplements are ubiquitous in locker rooms. The designation of legal and illegal substances is arbitrary by nature.

Certainly though, the negative side effects of anabolic steroids are well documented. If you went through the public school system in the last 10 years, you were subjected to overblown health class movies to scare you out of juicing.

I’ll admit keeping high school and college kids from using steroids is reasonable. The side effects can be dangerous.

But take a step back.

We justify banning performance enhancers from professional sports because it’s bad for the athletes. The irony of that should blast you in the head.

We deify players who push through injuries. Sports journalists had a collective orgasm when Tony Romo returned to beat the 49ers with a broken rib and punctured lung. He was a “warrior.”

We encourage professional athletes to participate in sports that clearly take years off their lives. We pay top dollar to watch them bash their heads, destroy their joints, and punch each other in the face.

Some studies indicate that the average life span for NFL players is 55. If we truly cared about NFL players’ health, the NFL simply wouldn’t exist. The same goes for boxing. These sports are vicious.

Every professional athlete in a major sport is in imminent danger of serious injury. Like it or not, it’s part of what makes the games so thrilling.

But let’s say you manage to get around the hypocrisy of caring about steroids’ dangers while accepting violent sport. You stand strongly behind your conviction that we should legislate damaging drug side effects out of sports. Fine.

Then you need to urge leagues to develop a urine test for ibuprofen, the common over-the-counter anti inflammatory, because it can lead to serious damage of the stomach and liver. Prescription painkillers need to go, too. They ensnared Brett Favre in addiction while helping him achieve his hallowed 297 consecutive start streak.

Weak arguments against performance enhancers alone aren’t enough to justify promoting them. But the drugs bring considerable positives.

Many professional athletes use performance enhancers to recover from injuries. Rodney Harrison explained that his human growth hormone use was therapeutic.

He issued that explanation as part of an apology. He shouldn’t have apologized. The average NFL career is 3.2-3.5 years. Allowing steroids and HGH could lengthen players’ careers and increase their earning potential.

It would also be good for fans. When I watch games, I want to see the best players possible—not their back-ups.

And while we’re on the subject of “the best players possible,” we need to acknowledge something. Fans want to see the biggest, fastest, strongest, most explosive athletes around.

So yes, selfishly I want to see Usain Bolt break 9 seconds in the 100. I want to see NBA players soar from the top of the key and slam it home. I want defensive ends running 4.3 second 40 yard dashes.

I want professional sports to allow performance enhancers. Call me crazy.