Legalize It?

In a post about Pete Rose and Barry Bonds, David Pinto has some provocative thoughts about steroid use and baseball, basically asking why is it wrong:

I want to throw out a hypothetical here. What if a surgeon invented a way to make you stronger with muscle implants? We already harvest hearts and lungs and corneas and livers for transplant. What if there was a way to graft more muscle onto your thighs? Is it different than laser surgery on your eyes so you see as well as Ted Williams? Is it different than getting a new arm through surgery to repair a blown tendon? Hypothetically, the effect would be the same as steroids; a stronger body hitting the ball farther. Would this be okay? Where do we draw the line and why do steroids seem to cross it?
We want to watch big guys hit home runs. That sells baseball. That helps our teams win. That’s exciting. Why do we care so much about how they sculpt their bodies to become those hitters?
After all, we don’t see to care so much about actors and actresses having plastic surgery. We go see them in movies because they look good, and when they stop being beautiful, we stop watching. Should there be a rule that only “natural” actors be allowed to make movies? Should Hollywood ban everyone who gets a face lift or tummy tuck?
Of course not. Becuase these people are hurting no one but themselves. And the same is true of baseball players.

It�s a very good question, the fundamental kind people too rarely ask. Like in international relations, why is it wrong for countries like Iraq and Iran to pursue nuclear weapons? Asking such questions doesn�t necessarily mean that you will come to a different conclusion, but it does help prevent you from blindly following conventional wisdom. In terms of steroids, there are several reasons why they should be banned and why their usage should be proscribed. Here are just a few�

First, as pointed out in Pinto�s comments, most steroids are illegal and it is wrong for baseball to look the other way at illegality that is fundamentally tied to performance. None of those forms of surgery are illegal. This is, of course, a circular argument and drug legalization advocates might ask why steroids need to be illegal. But for now, it suffices to say they are; baseball does not exist in a vacuum.
Second, there is the fairness issue. Baseball games should not be decided by which players are most willing to take drugs to enhance their performance. Even if steroids were not illegal in broader society, they should be banned in a competitive, zero-sum environment such as Major League Baseball. Some players wisely choose not to take steroids for health reasons. Should they be penalized for that? Do we want to see baseball degenerate into some kind of freak show like SNL’s All-Drug Olympics? (�His trainer has told me that he’s taken anabolic steroids, Novacaine, Nyquil, Darvon, and some sort of fish paralyzer. Also, I believe he’s had a few cocktails within the last hour or so. All of this is, of course, perfectly legal at the All-Drug Olympics��)
Third, there is the issue of setting a bad example for children and aspiring athletes. Again, is the message we want to send that you need to destroy your body and health in order to succeed in baseball? Allowing steroid use at the highest level of baseball encourages its use at every lower level, including many, many young people who will never achieve the types of offsetting riches that people like Barry Bonds have. Some libertarians would argue that it is still an individual choice, even at lower levels, and if young people are stupid enough to take steroids just to make their high school or college teams, without a real chance at the pros, that is their own stupid fault. Maybe so, but MLB can draw the line at the highest level and have a real impact on people�s lives. That is good enough for me.
There are plenty of other reasons. Just because steroid use harms the people who take them, doesn�t mean that it doesn�t also harm the integrity, popularity and aesthetics of the game. I see no good reasons why steroid use should be tolerated by MLB and why cheaters should not be punished to the full extent of its rules.

9 thoughts on “Legalize It?”

  1. “Third, there is the issue of setting a bad example for children and aspiring athletes. Again, is the message we want to send that you need to destroy your body and health in order to succeed in baseball?”
    –And the fact that baseball players chew tobacco, on the field, in plain view of any kids that are watching, doesn’t set a bad example for children? Even if dipping doesn’t send the message “that you need to destroy your body and health in order to succeed in baseball,” it still sends the message that kids should dip to be like their favorite successful baseball player. I agree with you that steroids should be controlled, but that argument is at least a little hypocritical.

  2. Number three should really be two separate arguments. Baseball players are shitty role models for children, and steroids are just one of the reasons why. The most compelling argument for keeping steroids out of sports is the second part – in this sort of competitive atmosphere, you�d basically be telling anyone who wants to keep his job or make a name for himself to trade their health by juicing. That�s not what sports should be about (and what’s more, it’s not a very good deal).

  3. I don’t have the pharmacological/medical education to understand steroids as much as I should before coming to a conclusion on the appropriate response. Anyone with a link to a good source of information for the science-defecient?
    Are steriods in sports a use v. abuse issue? There has to be some legitimate use for steroids, no?
    If “most” steroids are illegal, would allowing the use of legal steroids, with physician approval, blunt this argument in favor of prohibiting steroid use by athletes?
    I dislike the “example for the kids” argument, not only here but practically everywhere. Think of all the behaviors, many of them enjoyed by millions without bothering anyone, that one could argue set a bad example for kids. Spending too much time blogging comes immediately to mind.
    The best argument against steroid use, like the argument against corked bats, doctored balls, etc., is that it undermines fair competition. No other justification is required.
    If I were a modern day Kennesaw Mountain Landis, with dictatorial powers over the owners, I would flat out ban steroids in the name of fair competition, I would not care if the players wanted to strike over it (they wouldn’t), and I would appeal directly to my customers who overwhelmingly support such a ban.
    It is an embarassment that America’s Pastime is behind the Olympics on this one.

  4. RE: role models
    so binge drinking and tobacco which are more dangerous should be okay, but steroids not?
    I don’t get it. If steroids were legal than the players should be allowed to use them. For example Lance Armstrong has certain Cancer treatments that are banned if not prescribed. Something like 85% of professional tri-athletes are diagnosed “asthmatic” but the number is like 20% in the general public (just pulling that from memory). Once its legal to have you can’t effectively stop the using of it.
    In terms of testing steroid benifits are from training so the only way to prevent the usage is an aggressive year round testing policy. This is so invasive that there is no way MLB should be allowed to do it. Does a player from the DR have to fly himself home to see the pee-police?
    Look at the Olympics, you cant take an aspirin for a headache before your race,
    drug testing is a waste of everyones time. let those who use poorly pay the price with their bodies. the results will scare most others straight.

  5. For the person above who said that he’d ban steroids outright, fine, hasn’t that already happened? To me the issue at this point more properly is the toothless testing and enforcement procedures thanks to the MBLPA (not to leave the other sports player’s associations out since they’re not any better on this issue.)

  6. steroids are perfecvtly ok.Every era of the mlb has had cheating like racism and low mounds.If negro pithers could have pithed or if themonds were not so low maybe The babe would not hit that many homers.

  7. They should be banned and testing should be increased, its wrong for players to have an unfair advantage over one another just because they have connections to get them iillegal substances. i mean the things are strictly illeagal in the United States without consent from a doctor so why allow professional athletes use them.

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