A report last week on ESPN.com indicated that Brewers star Ryan Braun's name had appeared on a list in the Miami clinic that was connected to alleged PED use by Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Yasmani Grandal and others. Grandal issued the usual generic apology when he reported to camp.
I'm not going to go into any more detail here; you can read the links. My intention here is to raise a serious question about PED use in sports in general, and baseball in particular.
What usually happens when these kinds of reports come out? Universal condemnation of the player involved, except from fans of his team; handwringing over records or statistics or awards; moralistic writing by old-school sportswriters; and promises by sports leagues of even more stringent testing.
And what does that lead to? Athletes going to ever-greater lengths to defeat the testing, or to the next level of designer drug for which no test has yet been developed. And it doesn't matter how many tests are done, or how many anti-doping organizations get involved; professional athletes will go to just about any length to do anything to their bodies to win at their particular sport. You need look no farther than the Lance Armstrong saga to see an example of someone not only willing to do literally anything to his own body to win, but also in the process to destroy anyone in his way.
How does this serve the athletes? They wind up weaving an ever-greater web of half-truths, excuses and sometimes, outright lies. How does this serve the public who, through ticket sales, cable/satellite/internet subscriptions, and higher prices for products advertised on sporting events, pay for all of this?
I'm beginning to come around to the idea that it doesn't.
Every time a sports organization bans some sort of PED/doping regime, athletes try to beat it, or try something new that doesn't have a test, or that leagues or sports organizations haven't thought to test for. It's the nature of being a competitive athlete; beyond that, consider the enormous amounts of money available to athletes in modern sports. No wonder they want to get every possible edge.
So what am I saying here? Legalize PEDs? Let athletes do whatever they want to build monstrous bodies that aren't anywhere near what normal human beings look like?
I'm not really sure, actually. I do know this: it's definitely not good for either the athlete nor the public who follows sports -- any sports -- to have these athletes served by slimy characters like Victor Conte and Tony Bosch. Personally, I'm tired of endless debates about some FedEx courier's basement instead of talking about how the Cubs can and will improve on the field.
I won't put any specific Cubs name in this post, but how would you as a Cubs fan feel if a significant Cubs player were named on a list like the one that came from Bosch's Miami clinic? Would you rush to defend him, because you're a Cubs fan? Would you rush to condemn him because you're a Cubs fan? Do you want to spend the rest of your life as a baseball fan wondering about every single player like this who comes down the line, because, as I said... It doesn't matter how many rules, laws, tests, whatever, that those in charge of sports come up with, because the athletes will always, always, always be one step ahead.
Would it be better if performance-enhancing substances were legalized for sports and regulated? It... just... might. Doing that couldn't possibly be worse than what we have now, the constant cycle of doping, hiding, lying, investigating, apologizing. This is especially true in an era when the constant drumbeat of stories of players being arrested for DUI is pretty much ignored. Which one is more important?
Finally, you'll say, "What about the record books?" The record books are already sullied by not letting black players into major-league baseball until 1947. And expansion. And corked baseballs, and smaller ballparks, and... well, you get the idea. Every era has had adjustments. I'm not one of those people who says, "Take all the home runs away from the roiders!" You can't. The numbers are what they are. It's up to us to interpret what we think they mean.
Some of you might say this is condoning cheating, and you might very well be right. I'm not completely convinced this is the right way to think about all of this, not yet, anyway. But in the wake of the new information regarding Ryan Braun, I know I'm getting tired of these seemingly endless revelations, and thought it was worth discussing. Have at it, in advance of this afternoon's game.