Tucked in among the compelling news items focusing on Tigers Woods' prodigious appetite for female companionship was a nugget relaying how the greatest golfer of all time had visited a Canadian doctor now under investigation for providing performance-enhancing drugs to his clients.
Tiger wasn't alone. Noted Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and other prominent athletes also felt an uncanny urge to venture northward to partake in the vaunted Canadian health care system -- all of them, naturally, innocent until proven otherwise.
Then, of course, there was predictable news that one-time Major League slugger Mark McGwire had admitted to using steroids when breaking baseball's single-season home run record in 1998. He has asked for forgiveness.
As this latest news unfolded, I, a sports fan, was neither distressed nor offended. I watched cable news talkers -- thought-provoking policy analysts on a number of other days -- deconstruct this moment of national shame. Nothing. I listened to the moral preening of athletes turned ESPN analysts. Nothing. I suspect I was not alone.
It occurred to me that the question I truly wanted posed was this: Why are performance-enhancing drugs considered so appalling to begin with?
Professional leagues are free to ban any substance they choose in an effort to create competitive parity. Yet there is nothing inherently corrupt or immoral about utilizing technology that allows us to build stamina, strength and quickness -- or, perhaps even more beneficially, helps an athlete bounce back from injuries sooner.
Why is our default position that of aversion? If a professional pitcher is permitted to undergo a ligament transplant that can improve his arm strength and extend his career after an injury, why can't he schedule injections to improve his strength beforehand?
Do enhancers make sports unfair? Yes. But since when have professional sports ever been fair? In baseball, one team can outspend another tenfold. Is that fair? However much we romanticize the enterprise, Major League Baseball is stocked with entertainers, not Seventh-day Adventists.
Without question, McGwire lied and cheated. This fact would have held more impact had the entire sports world not been cheering this abnormally hulking figure as he hit an implausible 70 homers in 1998. This might have been a credible scandal if Major League Baseball had not allowed any player to cheat. (Baseball did not begin testing until 2002.)
Fans knew. Sports writers knew. Causal onlookers knew. (SET ITAL) Something (END ITAL) was unnatural.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Nature is overrated.
During the 1998 season, one of the most exciting in baseball history, the top home run hitters in the American League were Ken Griffey (56), Albert Belle (49), Jose Canseco (46), Manny Ramirez (45), Juan Gonzalez (45), Rafael Palmeiro (43), Alex Rodriguez (42) and Mo Vaughn (40) -- all of them hitting more homers than this past year's American League champion.
At least half of the above players have been tied in some way to performance-enhancing drugs. I don't hold great hope for the other half. By last season, on the other hand, baseball had cleaned up its act -- and, accordingly, it was a magnificent bore.
What fans need is a little more muscle, if you get my drift, and a little less of this "moving the runner over" nonsense. As it turns out, golden ages in baseball happen to coincide with lots of homers, the most exquisite and dramatic event in sports.
Now, we're not above turning a blind eye to suspect behavior when it's entertaining and then engaging in over-the-top Puritanism once the high has dissipated. But before the Senate has its next round of useless hearings on the matter -- and before some political opportunist presses charges and before we react perfunctorily -- let's remember what we're talking about here, people:
Home runs. Glorious, stunning, patriotic home runs.
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