I refused to comment on the Floyd Landis issue over the past two weeks because I didn't know exactly how to put my thoughts on the matter into a concise wording. I didn't want to just ramble on about my beliefs that he's innocent and I didn't want to just say it shouldn't matter. But I think I stumbled on a way to explain it the other night while sitting around the campfire at Mount St. Helens.
I just don't care if athletes use steroids, HGH, blood-doping, or anything else illegal and synthetic. I just don't care. Legalize it all and then, for once and for all, we can again have a level playing field. Now, I know you're probably getting ready to fire me off an angry email about the athlete's health and the "sanctity of the sport" so just here me out.
Let's be honest here folks, do you think it's healthy for a running back in the NFL to get hit thousands of times in the knees and back and head? He will. Do you think it's healthy for a catcher's knees in the MLB to spend that much time squatting down like he does? Try it and tell me how long you last. Or what about boxing? Nothing needs to be said there. Or what about the tremendous risk of ankle and knee injuries to the men and women in the NBA and WNBA. Or, to go in a different direction, look at professional ultra-marathoners and adventure racers. Do you really think it benefits your body to run 100 miles nonstop? Or to go four days without sleep? And these sports aren't the only ones. There's a reason why we have ailments called "jumper's knee" and "tennis elbow", not to mention certain surgeries named after professional athletes. Tommy John anyone?
When it comes to sports at the professional level, the demands and rigors of the activity alone are so potentially crippling long-term, that I'm not sure the side-effects of steroids and other banned substances are really worth all the hubbub they receive. But I think, if society is really unwilling to accept "drugs" as part of our sporting culture, then there's a way to let it work itself out.
Remember how horrified and shocked the nation was when Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV? Up until that point it was a well known fact that pro athletes -- especially a couple famous guys in the NBA -- were basically on a nationwide sex tour for half the year. For example, most everyone who follows sports knows of Wilt Chamberlain's claim to have had sex with over 20,000 women. There was a culture of promiscuity throughout the 70's and 80's not wholly unlike the one we believe to revolve around steroids in the 90's and 00's. But what about the sex? Once Magic announced that he had HIV, a murmur fell across the athletic populace and people began to realize the err of their ways. I'm not naive enough (or depressed, depending on how you want to think about it) to think that athletes don't get a little action on the side when they travel, but there is definitely a much lower tolerance for it nowadays. Instead of hearing stories about Magic Johnson (best name ever) having women hand-picked from the crowd and brought to his hotel room after the game, you instead see guys embracing a much more family-oriented role. And, as for the single guys, they still get their kicks no doubt, but undoubtedly with protection in most cases.
What happened with sex and Magic Johnson could happen with steroids if we let it run its course. Everyone in the 70's and 80's knew the dangers of unprotected sex and promiscuity, but it took one of their biggest stars to suffer for athletes to take notice. They have to see it hurt one of their own to take it personally and realize their mortality.
So, as for use of performance-enhancing drugs, I say let it run its course. Let anyone and everyone use it. We'll get somewhat of a level playing field; we won't have to obsess over B Samples, polygraph tests and subpoenas; and we can once again focus our enjoyment on the sport. Then, say, in 15 to 20 years from now when guys start dying or kids start being born with mutated genitalia, then finally a big enough star in sports will be able to take the microphone just like Magic Johnson and shock a whole new generation into giving up something they became accustomed to. And while it's true that some guys with moderate notoriety have suffered from steroids and, ultmately died (Lyle Alzedo comes to mind) it's not recent enough and shocking enough to matter, sad to say. Only when the supposed side-effects claim the life or offspring of someone who the public adores and who other players revere will there be a real push to end the use of these substances. The push to change what many believe to be a culture of drugs in sports has to come from within. For that to happen, a star has to fall.
And if that never happens? So be it. Enjoy your homeruns. Enjoy your world records. Enjoy it all. We in the public and those in the media like to call an athlete's body a temple, but it's really just a piece of the machinery that any corporation relies on. And like any company, an athlete (the Board) has to decide where to draw the line when it comes to taking on risk for increased profits. It's clear that where we are in sports today, the money is defintely there and, well, the risks and side-effects aren't much more than hearsay. Every company has to take risks to achieve their goals. Why treat athletes any differently?