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Why is some performance enhancement OK but not others?

Feb 4, 2013, 7:19 AM EDT

Kirk Gibson Dodgers home run

Dan LeBatard offers the most intelligent and mature take on PEDs in sports I’ve seen in ages. He asks us to take a step back and ask ourselves why it is we are so hung up on a certain, narrow kind of performance enhancement in sports when we never question it — indeed, we openly praise it — when athletes do insane things to their bodies, all in the name of staying on the field? Often things that could cause massive harm.

Stuff like Ronnie Lott cutting his finger off. Lomas Brown playing with a catheter. Players having ligaments taken from cadavers and inserted into their own bodies. Drug therapies and medical procedures that are wholly unnecessary for a normal quality of life but are accepted in the name of athletic performance. We are totally fine with these. We are not totally fine with others:

We are OK with Kirk Gibson hitting one of the most famous home runs ever on one steroid (cortisone), but we slam the Hall of Fame door on the face of everybody else who might have used the anabolic kind. Granted, cortisone is not a banned performance enhancer, but it certainly enhanced Gibson’s performance, which wouldn’t have been possible without it. Lost in the shouting of “Cheater!” and “Fraud!” from a pill-popping America is how often athletes have to go through the pharmacy for the healing properties of hormones — not just to hit home runs but because what they do for a daily living really hurts.

It is not enough to draw some line and say “well, [drug/procedure X] is banned and [drug/procedure Y] is not banned.” It makes people who like to pour crap on banned PED users feel better, but it’s a most pedantic distinction. Why are some procedures and drugs banned and others not? Why do we allow some sorts of performance enhancement or enabling but not others? If it’s OK for Kirk Gibson to take a drug that allowed him to take the field when he otherwise could not have, why do we not allow other players to take other drugs that allow them to take the field when they otherwise can’t?

More broadly, as fans and observers, why do we seem to care so much and get so annoyed at certain sorts of seemingly unnatural acts undertaken by athletes but don’t care a bit — or, alternatively, fully expect — so many others?

  1. offseasonblues - Feb 4, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    Why is some performance enhancement OK but not others?
    I expect a ton of thumbs down for not following the group think here, but come on, this is a stupid question.
    Why is caffeine legal and methamphetamines aren’t?
    Why does morphine require a doctor’s care and ibuprofen sit on grocery store shelves?
    Why does a doctor treat a bad case of poison ivy with prednisone instead of anabolic steroids?
    Why is marijuana on the verge of legality and crack cocaine isn’t?

    We may not have the information we need to put any given “PED” in the right category, but we have every right to distinguish between substances based on what we do know or think we know.

  2. waltcoogan - Oct 26, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    There is a big difference between a cortisone shot and using illegal steroids, please. Cortisone shots are commonplace in sports.

  3. waltcoogan - Oct 26, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    Craig, LeBatard’s article is not mature and intelligent, it is childish and an indulgence in moral relativism. He suggests that McGwire and Sosa viewed steroids as innocent healing agents and medicinal treatment, when steroids had been illegal in American society for years and turned those sluggers’ bodies into hulking anomalies. We have to paint with a more refined brush here, rather than suggesting that all advances are one in the same.

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